The GOP’s goal is more about being reelected rather than economic recovery, and their tacit promotion of RW resistance through gun rallies is only a first step “back to normal”. This is happening even if they also tolerate attacks on science by pseudo-scientific propaganda like Vaxxed or Plandemic. Unfortunately, the Summer will be filled with many reactionary responses to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, within which “herd immunity” will persist.
We know Trump subscribes to folk beliefs about excessive exercise and genetic superiority, as not a few RWNJs given shelter by the GOP. As Trump traffics in conspiracy theories and disinformation, his lead is taken elsewhere into the heartland states whose contagions are rising. Needless to say, that spreading uncertainly is being exploited by malign, “bad actors” (like Russians).
The attacks on health care workers are the natural progression of a previous conspiracy theory pushed by Infowars and other right-wing outlets: that the novel coronavirus outbreak in the United States was being faked by hospitals, which were actually empty as evidenced by footage of medical center parking lots.
The right-wing conspiracy theories about hospitals and medical workers have become an added burden on medical workers who are trying to stem the coronavirus outbreak. As NBC News’ Ben Collins reported, health care workers are “dealing with a bombardment of misinformation and harassment from conspiracy theorists, some of whom have moved beyond posting online to pressing doctors for proof of the severity of the pandemic.”
As nurses and doctors are increasingly inundated with conspiracy theories, Alex Jones is claiming that health care workers are doing drugs and having orgies in empty hospitals or alternately that they are killing coronavirus patients for money: https://t.co/CJN0ijytkX— Tim Johnson (@timothywjohnson) May 12, 2020
Russian bots are targeting health of American children. My brother is a West Coast pediatrician working round the clock treating measles epidemic. Turns out, the anti-vax movement is amplified by Russian bots. https://t.co/ZhSGFi3ZMK— Craig Unger (@craigunger) February 13, 2019
But the coronavirus is not a chronic immune condition; it’s a novel virus that attacks the body’s systems in ways not yet completely understood. Experts roundly reject the idea that social distancing will dangerously weaken the immune system. “A broad-based immunity weakening because of social distancing? Definitely not,” said Saad Omer, a Yale University epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist. Jennifer Reich, a sociologist who studies the spread of misinformation about health, agreed. “In order for our immune systems to be harmed by social distancing, we would have to live in sterile settings for a long time in which no bacteria or germs could affect us,” she wrote to me in an email.
But the experts I talked to weren’t at all surprised to see these discredited ideas making the rounds; they’ve seen them before in the anti-vaccination and extreme holistic medicine communities. This is the coronavirus edition of their pervasive belief in “natural immunity.” Rupali Limaye, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist who has studied the movement against mandatory vaccines, told me, “We have heard from those that are concerned about vaccines the argument that they prefer to allow their immune system to be naturally exposed to a specific pathogen to gain immunity,” she wrote to me in an email. “It’s a spinoff of previous theories we’ve seen,” concurred Omer, who has written extensively about anti-vaccination groups. “This is all the usual stuff.”
Indeed, anti-vaccination groups on Facebook have referenced the idea constantly in recent posts. One widely shared meme lists, “Things that suppress our immune systems: Masks, gloves, no sun, fear, vaccines, washing hands with synthetic soaps.” In response to an article about the decline in childhood vaccination rates as a result of coronavirus, one member of the group Michigan for Vaccine Choice commented, “God, I would love for my kids to catch chicken pox, my body could use a little exposure to keep the shingles away lol plus you know them developing actual immunity would be nice.” In recent weeks, in response to calls for social distancing, several of the groups posted a 2016 New York Post article titled, “We Need to Stop Sanitizing Everything and Let Bacteria Back Into Our Lives.”
Infectious disease experts all agree that the “herd immunity” approach would be catastrophic—millions of Americans would die in the process. It would be one thing if it were just fringe groups promoting this dangerous idea. But there are signs that this dangerous and flawed line of thinking is making its way into the mainstream. Over the past few months, Omer has watched in horror as the musings from armchair epidemiologists have gone viral on social media. He pointed to several influential op-eds—some of them by physicians in fields having nothing to do with infectious disease or epidemiology—promoting the herd immunity approach. In a sprawling March 20 New York Times op-ed, David Katz, a Yale preventive medicine specialist who focuses on diet, wrote that this approach could allow us to “return to life as usual and perhaps prevent vast segments of the economy from collapsing. Healthy children could return to school and healthy adults go back to their jobs.” When Omer read the piece, he was appalled. “These people are putting forth these theories without checking with people whose job this is, who specialize in it,” he told me. “This is not a debate society—there are actual consequences here. People are dying in hospitals alone.”
I’ve been working on this since January: Russian interference is going to happen again—and the story of US preparation is a maddening account of haplessness and Trump undermining well meaning reforms. Sorry to add to the anxieties. https://t.co/oi7f90pK9l— Franklin Foer (@FranklinFoer) May 11, 2020