Tension between Democrats and Republicans grow as masks become the newest politicization
In today’s polarizing political climate, COVID-19 has become politicized—an anomaly to many who believe scientific facts should not be a political issue.
According to a study done by the Pew Research Center on June 25, only 38 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents thought the worst of the virus is still to come, while 76 percent of Democrats and those who lean Democratic thought the worst is still coming—evidence of the effect of party affiliation on one’s outlook. Senior Judah Powell attributes this division to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and downplaying of the virus.
“I think really looking back, the President [and] his comments on saying [the virus is] kind of a hoax [and] a media alarmist kind of thing—I think that’s really when [the politicization] started, when people were saying everyone was overreacting to it saying it’s not that bad.”
According to a Sept. 26 poll of 249 students, 82 percent believe that COVID-19 should not be a political issue.
“I personally think it’s selfish because [people] are thinking about themselves when COVID-19 is most [harmful] for people with significant health issues,” sophomore Emma Konen said. “It shouldn’t be taken politically if it has to do with basic health care.”
Scientific evidence has shown mask-wearing protects one from spreading the virus and can even protect the mask-wearer from inhaling as many viral particles. With this evidence, the question arises about whether the government should mandate mask-wearing.
“I think conservatives are [focusing more on] freedom and independence and that kind of thing,” senior Gina Wilson said. “It’s our own individual rights so we want to decide if we should wear [a mask] or not.”
Konen believes keeping others safe should be the top consideration.
“I don’t think it is infringing on anyone’s rights,” Konen said. “[It’s about] keeping other people safe and not just thinking about yourself, I don’t think it should be made political or it has to be.”
During the pandemic, social media has been a conduit for misinformation about the virus. According to the World Health Organization, misinformation can cost lives because it can lead to unused diagnostic tests, failed immunization campaigns and ultimately, the virus’ continual spread.
“It’s not a matter of you believing it’s real or not.” Powell said. “The facts prove that this virus is dangerous. We have a body count of over 200,000 now, over 6 million cases in the U.S. alone, and to think this virus isn’t real—it’s all alarmist—that is very selfish of somebody to think, and I think what they should take into consideration is those around them.”
To avoid giving into false rumors about the virus, Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends reading trusted sources such as official government or healthcare social media accounts and sites, checking links and sources on a site and reading other credible sources to see if the information is corroborated. Upper school English teacher Greg Randall encourages people to turn to fact-based, civil sources for information.
“[For] the greatest threats to our world right now, I would put climate change at the top, but very close to that would be the [rejection of] truth, misinformation [and] our unwillingness to slow down, think deeply, and make our own decisions, rather than absolutely accept somebody else’s,” Randall said.
The politicization of COVID-19 is reflective of a larger trend: the politicization of science seen in debates over climate change and vaccinations. Randall attributes this to tribalism—a strong loyalty to one side—in politics.
“The vast majority of scientists worldwide believe in climate change, but if your own worldview is not that of the majority of scientists, then [you believe] science is wrong,” Randall said. “The vast majority of doctors and pediatricians believe in getting vaccinated for the flu; yet, if you’re own worldview is there are problems with that, then you simply don’t believe the scientists. So, I think it has become too easy to distrust science and believe in what the tribe believes.”
Seventy-seven percent of students believe science has become politicized.
“Science is not meant to be politicized,” Powell said. “It’s meant to expand our own knowledge and to further the benefit for humankind.”
Powell encourages less debate and more unity during these times.
“I think debate over [the virus is] definitely harmful,” Powell said. “There shouldn’t have to be a debate about it…I think it’s one thing if this were another political issue, but something like [COVID-19] that poses a greater health risk to people all over the world should not be something we debate over. We should be trying to be unified against it to stop it.”