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Get Your Politics Out of My Pandemic!

A few ways politics has gotten mixed up with COVID-19 decision making.

I specialize in medical decision making, not politics, and yet, when it comes to COVID-19, it seems that medical issues are becoming secondary to political considerations. This is very bad news for our health.

1. The U.S. was one of the last countries to impose a lockdown, which meant loss of lives that could have been saved. This did not happen because the data on the virus was missing, or the trajectories weren't clear. It likely happened, in part, because some politicians viewed this kind of response to the virus as surrender. These same politicians apparently failed to see the long-term implications of the disease, which is why I was interviewed on TV on March 19 and was asked to comment on spring break in Florida. Students were roaming the streets and the beaches without wearing masks or social distancing. Miami now has 70 deaths per 100,000 citizens, more than the U.S. average of 51, or Canada's average of 24.

2. Nowhere has mask-wearing been as politicized as in the U.S. It took President Trump a while to start wearing them, and in the meantime masks seemed to became to (some!) Republicans what bras used to be for feminists: an accessory you do without and make a statement in doing so.

The truth is, though, that viruses and bacteria don't care who you vote for. They don't discriminate, they just love to spread themselves and feast on your respiratory tract. Masks stop the spread, and do an even better job when social distancing is also maintained. This is true of everyone's body, no matter their political opinions. Even if you think masks are stupid and wearing them is a sign of weakness, your body will thank you if you put one on, for your health's sake.

3. And if U.S. politics isn't sufficiently complicated around the virus, the Israeli government is now discussing limiting restaurant seating even more, as COVID-19 is on the rise. Why is this political, you ask? Because the most corona-stricken places in Israel are ultra-orthodox cities, where people live in close proximity to one another (and don't go to restaurants!). Tel Aviv, Israel's high-tech and entertainment hub, is relatively free of COVID. This doesn't make sense until you take a look at the government and understand why they might object to locking down ultra-orthodox cities. The danger here lies in losing public trust and reducing adherence to measures that seem random, at best. What I propose is to decide based on data and solid evidence-based health experts' advice. Don't worry, politicians—at the end of the day, everyone, even the die-hard anti-maskers, want you to keep them healthy.

For more thoughts on the unholy marriage of politics and health, follow Dr. Jordan Shlain.

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