“An awful lot of leaders around the world are in that age group,” Dr. Howard Markel, director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan and an expert on the 1918 flu pandemic, told me. “When you have a government made up of senior citizens who work in close quarters, like Congress or the House of Commons in Britain, on top of political duties where they meet a lot of people, shake hands, and kiss babies—these are all activities considered at high risk for the spread of a respiratory virus. These are professions that don’t practice social distancing.” (President Wilson was sixty-three when he caught the Spanish flu.)
COVID-19 introduces a risk factor for governance around the globe. Both the mechanics and process of governance can be hindered if government officials are sick, not at full strength, or not on the job. “We like to imbue our leaders with magical powers, but these microbes are very democratic,” Markel said. “Anyone over sixty will tell you they can’t think as fast or have the stamina they once did. Anyone over the age of seventy should not be taking on jobs of this magnitude.”
Local and state governments have been impacted, too. On Saturday night, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, announced that two members of the State Assembly—Helene Weinstein and Charles Barron—were infected with COVID-19. Weinstein is sixty-seven, and Barron is sixty-nine. Both Georgia and Louisiana delayed their primaries, which were supposed to take place this week. On Friday, the mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, tested positive; he had met twice with Wajngarten on Monday.