As an alarming second wave of COVID-19 continues to surge across the U.S., Republican politicians who initially resisted strict social distancing and mask-wearing protocols are beginning to flip their stance.
On Monday, Iowa Republican gov. Kim Reynolds, who previously labeled coronavirus restrictions as “feel good measures,” ordered a statewide mandate requiring residents over the age of 2 to wear masks in indoor public spaces.
“If Iowans don’t buy into this, we’ll lose,” Reynolds said at a news conference. “Businesses will close once again, more schools will be forced to go online, and our health care system will fail.”
Reynolds is not alone in her about-face among her Republican governor colleagues. Earlier this month, the GOP-led states of West Virginia, North Dakota, and Utah, all issued similar mask mandates. Each had resisted issuing such an order in the earlier months of the pandemic.
“Our hospitals are full,” Utah gov. Gary Herbert said in a video posted to Twitter, announcing the mandate. “This threatens patients who rely on hospital care from everything from covid-19 to emergencies like heart attacks, strokes, surgeries and trauma. We must work together to keep infections low until a vaccine is available.”
In late October, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, made an ominous prediction about the fates of some of those states. “It’s much more about some of the states like Utah, Nevada, South Dakota, North Dakota, where … they never had a pretty good reserve of intensive care beds and things like that,” Fauci told the Washington Post. “I hope they’ll be okay, but it’s still a risk that, as you get more surging, they’re going to run out of capacity.”
Total COVID-19 cases have surpassed 11.3 million in the United States as of Tuesday, according to the New York Times’ database. The surge is particularly prominent in Midwestern states, with North Dakota and Iowa among the top three states with the most cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days.
The shift in attitude among GOP leadership is reflected in a recent Axios-Ipsos poll that found that 52% of people who identify as Republicans now see in-person gatherings as risky, up from 40% in late October. Additionally, the share of Republicans who now see indoor dining as risky rose from 37% to 45% in recent weeks.
“Our survey has consistently found that Republicans are less concerned about the coronavirus, by almost any measure,” Axios’ Sam Roberts wrote. “But Republicans and Independents are beginning to come around on the risk of indoor dining and socializing, and that’s what’s driving the overall increase in risk perception.”
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