Just adding my voice to the chorus of righties on social media last night who lambasted CNN for continuing to put this tool on TV. I wrote about him on May 1, noting at the time that beaches were a weird spot for a well-meaning COVID scold to haunt: “[I]f we’re rating the safest places in America right now, a hot, humid outdoor space bathed in UV radiation with plenty of ocean breezes has to be near the very top.” But whatever. His shtick seemed harmless enough. Maybe the publicity would convince a few people at the margins to be sure to keep six feet away from others while out and about.
Then he started turning up at anti-racism protests. What happened to the Grim Reaper gear, bro?
Defuniak springs, Florida. Huge crowd. Stay hopeful and stay strong. pic.twitter.com/xKlNWF6EFw
— Daniel Uhlfelder (@DWUhlfelderLaw) June 7, 2020
Miami protest where we delivered water to protestors pic.twitter.com/E3fFLU8F49
— Daniel Uhlfelder (@DWUhlfelderLaw) June 6, 2020
He’s a lawyer, not a scientist, but there may be no person who better embodies the gross hypocrisy practiced by public-health experts in endorsing or opposing mass gatherings based purely on their politics. Want to stand around shoulder to shoulder in a crowd of thousands to protest police brutality? Daniel Uhlfelder will fetch you water. Want to play in the surf with your kids 20 feet away from strangers because you’re all stir crazy from being quarantined at home? Here comes the Reaper, swinging his plastic scythe.
Ed linked this Atlantic piece yesterday on the weird phenomenon of singling out beachgoers for COVID-shaming but it bears quoting again.
“You’d think from the moral outrage about these beach photos that fun, in itself, transmits the virus,” the Harvard epidemiologist Julia Marcus told me. “But when people find lower-risk ways to enjoy their lives, that’s actually a public-health win.”
The beach shaming is especially terrible because, so many months in, we now know that the virus spreads most readily indoors, especially in unventilated, crowded spaces, and even more so in such spaces where people are talking or singing without masks. Outdoor transmission isn’t impossible, of course, but being outdoors is protective for scientifically well-understood reasons: Open air dilutes the concentration of virus in the air one breathes, sunlight can help kill viruses, and people have more room to stay apart in the great outdoors than within walled spaces.
It’s not so much that some people want to play “fun police” (although some do), I think, as that there’s a latent quasi-religious feeling that the virus is some sort of judgment on mankind. To me it’s not starkly different from a fundamentalist preacher blaming the culture’s licentiousness for an earthquake. The woke epidemiologists fit that model: The protests are virtuous, the beachgoing is vicious (in the sense that it’s fun), ergo it’s the beaches that are more likely to feel the virus’s wrath. I wish we had a way to test that. I know how I’d wager on whether more people nationally have transmitted the virus at beaches versus at anti-racist demonstrations.
Uhlfelder’s argument for targeting beaches, which now involves a lawsuit against Ron DeSantis, is more subtle than that per the clip below. It’s not the beaches per se that are a problem, he tells CNN, it’s that the beaches draw tourists and tourists will end up congregating in more dangerous spots like bars and restaurants afterward. Which is strange logic: If he’s worried about bars and restaurants, you would think he’d do his Grim Reaper shtick outside bars and restaurants and nightclubs and other tourist traps. Not everyone who visits Florida is there for beachgoing, after all. DisneyWorld is set to reopen this weekend. Why isn’t he there instead of on the beach?
Meanwhile, it’s inevitably the case that some protesters who gathered to demonstrate against police brutality and racism ended up congregating in indoor spaces after the demonstration was over. In some cases that would mean bars or restaurants, in others it might mean small groups of friends at one person’s apartment. (If nothing else, a stream of people using a small enclosed space like a porta-potty at a rally runs a risk of infection.) Uhlfelder’s basic point, that big outdoor attractions end up steering people to smaller indoor attractions, is fair enough. He just refuses to apply its logic fairly. So what is he doing on national television?
And why didn’t Brianna Keilar muster a single question here calling him out on his protests/beaches hypocrisy?
I think Uhlfelder’s getting the same pass from CNN on his coronavirus politics as Andrew Cuomo has gotten in a much bigger spotlight. It doesn’t matter how hypocritical you are, how you’ve performed in your role, or whether your justifications for your actions make sense. All that matters is that you show that you care about the right things.
Attorney Daniel Uhlfelder, who dresses as the Grim Reaper to warn beachgoers to stay home, has sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for prematurely opening beaches amid the coronavirus pandemic. He says "there's been a lack of leadership" in the state. https://t.co/CHWETp7n6A pic.twitter.com/DayrfACWgy
— CNN (@CNN) July 6, 2020