Why GOP Wants to Spread COVID-19
72% of state voters support mask mandate. But Republicans worry only about Trump supporters.
Why are Wisconsin Republicans so eager to get rid of measures aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19? The latest manifestation of this tendency is their push to end Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate, currently the only statewide restriction aimed at controlling the virus.
A recent article in the New York Times discussed a model from Columbia University that estimates the likely number of future COVID-19 infections between now and July, when it assumes that vaccinations will be available for the whole population. The figure below summarizes the number of infections (in millions) under five scenarios using that model:
- The middle column in the graph assumes that present restrictions continue until late July.
- The left-hand column shows the projected infections if the present restrictions are lifted in February.
- The next column shows infection if restrictions are lifted in March.
- The fourth column shows enhanced restrictions in place until late February.
- The fifth column shows infection if the enhanced restrictions last through July.
Depressingly, even with strengthened restrictions (which the article does not specify) the nation is facing an additional 139 million infections and the resulting deaths. In part, because of the Trump administration’s incompetence and lack of focus, these future infections have been baked in.
Part of the problem is that many people do not understand just how powerful exponential growth can be. When an infective disease first appears, the number of sufferers can be quite small. Yet if each infected person passes the disease on to others the numbers can grow at a rate that many find surprising. That growth depends on the infection rate, the average number of other people an infected person infects, often written as Rt. COVID-19 is especially insidious because people without symptoms can pass it on.
The next chart illustrates what happens for three values of Rt that Wisconsin hit in the last few months, according to a model called Rtlive:
- On October 9th of last year, Wisconsin hit an Rt of 1.11. On average, every infected person infected slightly more than one other person. To be more precise, 100 infected people would, on average would infect 111 others.
- On December 19th Rt hit 1. Every infected person passed the disease to one other person.
- Most recently, the estimated Rt was 0.91.
The graph below shows what happens starting with 10,000 people. With an Rt of 1.11(which does not seem very high), the number of new infections has grown to 55,000. With an Rt of one, the number of infected people is still 10,000. With an Rt of .91 the cases drop to just under 2,000.
This implies that Wisconsin is in good shape. The number of new infections will continue to decline even without more vaccinations—but only if the state keeps on reducing its reinfection rate. Eliminating the mask mandate could be expected to increase the infection rate.
Possibly the Republican legislators are responding to their most Trumpian constituents. Evidence for this is contained in a Marquette Law School poll of registered Wisconsin voters reported at the beginning of October of last year. One question asked, “Do you agree or disagree with requiring masks in all public places?” The voters answered yes by nearly a 3-to-1 ratio. However, as the next graph shows, their answer was highly sensitive to their feelings about Donald Trump. The only group rejecting a mask mandate were those who strongly approved of Trump. By contrast, 98% of those who strongly disapproved of Trump supported the mask mandate.
Somewhat surprisingly, support for the mask mandate was widespread geographically, using Census Bureau categories. As the next graph shows, the mask mandate enjoyed almost the same support among rural residents as among residents of major (“principal”) cities.
I call this surprising because support for Trump is highly dependent on geography. When asked who they intended to vote for, “principal city” voters supported Biden over Trump by 66 to 24. Trump won the other four categories by an average 50% to 41%.
The tie between Trump loyalty and opposition to masks is reflected in recent events. On January 5th, a group of Republican legislators from competitive states sent a letter to then-Vice President Mike Pence. The letter asked Pence to delay the count of presidential ballots scheduled for the following day, January 6th.
Among the representatives co-sponsoring Resolution 3, which would end Wisconsin’s mask mandate, a disproportionate number previously signed the letter to Pence. All told, 16% of Republican Assembly members co-sponsored Resolution 3, but 57% of those signing the letter to Pence co-sponsored the anti-mask resolution.
Most of the anti-mask sponsors come from safe Republican districts, where Trump’s margin of victory was greater than in the other districts he won. These are districts where Trump is strong and the threat to reelection comes in the primary rather than the general election. There are two exception to this rule: Joe Sanfelippo and Dan Knodl, who both represent Milwaukee suburbs. Trump won Sanfelippo’s 15th District by 224 votes; Biden won Knodl’s 24th District.
The evidence, therefore, suggests the following: even in districts that Trump carried the majority of people support a mask mandate, but the majority of Republicans in those districts may oppose the mask mandate. The problem is that the legislators are much more likely to hear from the Trump voters—those that accept whatever Trump says as truth.
- WI Daily: 350 New COVID-19 Cases - Urban Milwaukee - Mar 5th, 2021
- DHS and Laboratory Partners Identify Variant Strain B.1.351 of SARS-CoV-2 in Wisconsin - Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Mar 5th, 2021
- Many South Side Seniors Now Eligible for Vaccination at Kosciuszko Community Center - Sup. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez - Mar 5th, 2021
- State Vaccine Hotline Up and Running - Graham Kilmer - Mar 5th, 2021
- County Targeting Vulnerable ZIP Codes for Vaccine - Graham Kilmer - Mar 5th, 2021
- Ron Johnson Pushes Conspiracies Ahead of Possible Third Term - Shawn Johnson - Mar 5th, 2021
- Gov. Evers, DHS Announce 1 Million Wisconsinites Have Received at Least One Dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine - Gov. Tony Evers - Mar 5th, 2021
- Evers Proposes COVID-19 Child Care Aid - Laurel White - Mar 4th, 2021
- WI Daily: 677 New COVID-19 Cases - Urban Milwaukee - Mar 4th, 2021
- MKE County: COVID-19 No Longer Declining in Milwaukee - Graham Kilmer - Mar 4th, 2021
Read more about Coronavirus Pandemic here
- Suit Asks State Supreme Court to Toss Mask Order - Erik Gunn - Feb 11th, 2021
- Op Ed: Why the War on Masks? Gerrymandering - Mel Barnes - Feb 7th, 2021
- Will Supreme Court Act on Mask Mandate? - Erik Gunn - Feb 6th, 2021
- Rep. Robyn Vining Supports Wearing Masks to Save Lives - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Feb 5th, 2021
- Rep. Rodriguez: Authors Legislation to Create Statewide Mask Order - State Rep. Sara Rodriguez - Feb 5th, 2021
- Democrats Take Action to Protect Public Health - State Sen. Jon Erpenbach - Feb 5th, 2021
- Rep. Bowen Statement on Senate Joint Resolution 3 and Executive Order #105 - State Rep. David Bowen - Feb 4th, 2021
- Republicans End Mask Mandate, Evers Puts It Back In Place - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 4th, 2021
- Rep. Robyn Vining Responds to Assembly Republicans’ Actions to Disregard the Lives and Livelihoods of Wisconsinites - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Feb 4th, 2021
- Gov. Evers Puts Public Health Before Politics, Signs New Public Health Emergency - Gov. Tony Evers - Feb 4th, 2021
Read more about Statewide Mask Mandate here