NIH chief "puzzled and rather disheartened" to see so many fans at Trump rally not wearing masks

Just flagging this for you in case you-know-who starts sh*tposting about Francis Collins at some point today and you find yourself wondering, “What’s this all about?” The key bit is in the first 60 seconds of this clip.

Collins attributes the aversion to mask-wearing to a sort of zombified partisanship, but that’s not quite right. Trump, after all, has made some gestures in support of masks over the past few months. He’s donned one a few times and tweeted that it’s “patriotic” to wear one, although, being the way he is, he also contradicts the pro-mask messaging from time to time. Also, if this were a matter of pure partisanship, we’d expect strong opposition to mask-wearing throughout the GOP. That’s not what we see. A poll in late July found 58 percent of Republicans in favor of a mask *mandate.* Righties are less universally supportive than lefties (89 percent) are, but a majority are sold on the utility of masks.

If Collins is wrong in implying that most Republican voters are anti-mask, though, he’s probably correct that most anti-maskers are Republican voters. There’s a certain type of righty populist that’s inclined to spite experts even when it’s in their interest not to do so. To the extent that that expert opinion is embraced by the left and amplified as “politically correct,” the spite runs that much deeper. These are the same people who, along with left-wing New Age freaks, are going to form the backbone of the anti-vax resistance to the COVID miracle cure next year. Jim Acosta interviewed a few of them at last night’s rally, even asking one guy why he was skeptical of the risk from COVID when his hero, Donald Trump, had been caught on tape chattering to Bob Woodward about how deadly the virus is.

Not even Trump’s endorsement of masks can steer some people away from their skepticism, replete with distortions about the virus’s lethality. And so a truth about the “Trump cult” is laid bare: There is a cult of personality around him but it’s not so absolute that his hardcore fans will necessarily do the right thing just because he’s encouraging them to do so. An early inkling of that was when he endorsed Luther Strange over Roy Moore in the 2017 Alabama Senate primary runoff. If Alabama Republicans had listened to him, the GOP would hold that seat today. They didn’t; forced to choose between Trump and ugly populism in that case, they chose the latter. His johnny-come-lately support for masks is another example. His eventual cheerleading for the COVID vaccine later this year will be another. He can move the numbers, but it’s just not true that loyalty to Trump supersedes the most crankish populist impulses for his more out-there supporters.

Of course, in all of the examples I just gave, Trump himself never made a full-throated endorsement of his own position. He backed Strange but was never hard on Moore. He came around on masks but only after months of avoiding wearing one and treating them as politically correct. He’ll back the eventual COVID vaccine but he’s been a skeptic of vaccinations for years. In each of these cases he ended up taking a position that’s out of character because he was persuaded that it would benefit him personally somehow to do so. Supporting Strange over Moore would give him more votes in the Senate; endorsing masks might tamp down the pandemic, improving his reelection chances; a pre-election vaccine announcement might give him enough of a bounce to win the swing states he’s targeting. Without that personal incentive, who knows where Trump would come down on each of those issues? (I have my suspicions.) Maybe his fans are picking up on that too: “Yeah, he said wearing a mask is patriotic, but he *has* to say that. He doesn’t really mean it.”

Anyway. If Collins wants to worry about parts of the population seeding outbreaks, I have another suggestion for him (besides woke protesters attending mass anti-racism demonstrations, I mean). How about … college kids? USA Today has a piece out this morning noting that “Of the 25 hottest outbreaks in the U.S., communities heavy with college students represent 19 of them.” In one of those outbreaks, classes haven’t even begun yet; the transmissions are happening at parties and other social events. The Times notes the unfortunate case of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which had a detailed plan in place for containing the virus on campus and saw that plan fall to pieces when students returned. How come? Well, it seems scientists never accounted for the fact that America’s best and brightest might continue partying after being diagnosed with COVID.

Second, they had indeed taken into account college partying and quite a bit of it — more than 7,000 students partying three times a week in their model.

What the scientists had not taken into account was that some students would continue partying after they received a positive test result. “It was willful noncompliance by a small group of people,” Dr. Goldenfeld said.

Those were the key ingredients for a few people infecting many others. “If you know you are positive,” Dr. Elbanna said, “and you go to a party, that’s not just a bad act. That’s very, very dangerous.”

Some of the students who tested positive even tried to circumvent the app so that they could enter buildings instead of staying isolated in their rooms, university administrators said in a letter to students.

If I had to choose between sitting next to a MAGA-head retiree convinced that masks are a hoax perpetrated by Bill Gates and the Illuminati or some campus bro who simply will not be denied his quota of keggers no matter what, I’d take my chances with the former. Compounding the stupidity of bringing college kids back to school at the beginning of fall, when doctors are fretting about the start of a second wave of COVID, some schools are responding to outbreaks by sending the kids home to infect their parents and local communities. Why they were brought back to school in the first place is a mystery to me, although I’m partial to the theory that it was a cash grab by school administrators who thought having students on campus for a few weeks might justify charging them full tuition for the semester.

Anyway, best of luck to everyone out there living within a few miles of a college or university. You’re going to need it.