As health officials warned that gatherings on the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend in the United States could fuel the spread of coronavirus, political observers are closely watching attitudes about the virus in the midwest, where Donald Trump and Joe Biden are locked in a struggle that could decide the presidential election.
Two new national polls published on Wednesday found that Trump retained the support of 40%-41% of voters – within the narrow band of support he has held since he took office, even as the confirmed death toll from Covid-19 in the United States approaches 200,000.
One of the polls, for Grinnell College by the highly reputed Selzer & Company, found that Trump enjoys a 49-45 lead over Biden among voters ages 55 and older – precisely the group most vulnerable to serious complications or death from coronavirus.
But in midwestern states such as Iowa and Minnesota, in particular, new warnings about coronavirus are being sounded just as the presidential election enters its final weeks and absentee voting begins.
“We cannot afford to have this Labor Day weekend further accelerate the community spread, because if that happens, what comes next is going to be worse,” Jan Malcolm, the Minnesota health commissioner, told local MPR News on Monday. “For a while now, we feel we’ve been kind of walking on the edge of a cliff.”
A White House coronavirus taskforce sent Iowa health officials a report this week warning that the state has the highest rate of cases in the United States, according to the Des Moines Register.
The state has recorded just over 1,000 deaths from Covid-19, and the more than 65,000 confirmed cases have disproportionately affected communities tied to regional packing plants.
Biden was scheduled to speak on Wednesday about Trump’s handling of the pandemic, and on Thursday the former vice-president planned to hold a community meeting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the site of protests after the shooting of Jacob Blake by a white police officer last month.
While approval of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus has been in the low-30s for months, the pandemic might not have altered the basic dynamics of the election, pollsters in key swing states such as Pennsylvania have observed.
But politically vulnerable Republicans aligned with Trump are following his lead in downplaying the virus.
The Iowa senator Joni Ernst, who was given a primetime speaking slot at the Republican national convention last week in an effort to help her pull off a tight re-election bid, said on Monday that she was “so skeptical” of the official death count from coronavirus.
In remarks reported by the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, Ernst advanced a false claim about coronavirus statistics that the infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus taskforce, has been at pains to debunk.
After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report last week showing that about 140,000 people who died of Covid-19 also had a second cause of death listed, Fauci went on ABC News’ Good Morning America to underscore that all of the more than 180,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States are “real deaths from Covid-19”.
But Ernst amplified a debunked interpretation of the CDC report, saying: “They’re thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly Covid-19. I’m just really curious. It would be interesting to know that.”
Health officials have warned that expressions of skepticism about coronavirus by Trump and other politicians risk creating a sense of complacency and endangering public health, particularly the health of elderly and otherwise vulnerable populations. Iowa ranks among the top three states for proportion of active voters over the age of 65.
In a conference call this week with governors, a recording of which was obtained by the Associated Press, Fauci warned that Labor Day weekend will be key in determining whether the US gets a “running start” at containing the coronavirus this fall. Fauci said it was important to avoid a surge in coronavirus cases like those seen after the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays when people gathered together at events, often with masks, after months of restrictions on movement.
In an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday, Fauci said there could be a US coronavirus vaccine by November or December this year.
The comment followed recent alarm that the Food and Drug Administration is vulnerable to political pressure to rush vaccine approval unsafely.
The worst outbreaks in the United States over the summer – in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California – followed Memorial Day activities in late May. Those states have since managed to reel in their case numbers. But other states, such as South Dakota, saw outbreaks following Fourth of July festivities attended by Trump at Mount Rushmore – and the state is suffering from an ongoing outbreak following a huge annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis.
Case trackers estimate that 61% of all the counties in the US have been visited by someone who attended Sturgis, a 10-day event that ended on 16 August, AP reported.
Fauci said on Monday he had a “great deal of faith in the American people” to wash their hands, practice social distancing, wear masks, avoid crowds and congregate outside during the weekend celebrations.
Trump won Iowa by 10 points in 2016 but his lead has narrowed to within the margin of error, latest polls show.
“Iowa is in the red zone for cases, indicating more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week, with the highest rate in the country,” the White House taskforce report said. “Iowa is in the red zone for test positivity, indicating a rate above 10%, with the fifth highest rate in the country.”
Source: The Guardian