Remember “Neanderthal thinking?”
It’s a moment worth remembering, because it sums up the problem with the Biden administration’s approach to fighting COVID-19. It’s one that I revisit frequently, even though it happened over a month ago. In early March, two states — Mississippi and Texas — removed all mask mandates and occupancy limits, trusting its businesses and citizens to act responsibly as case counts dipped and more were vaccinated.
President Joe Biden was indignant: “Look, I hope everybody’s realized by now, these masks make a difference,” Biden told reporters March 3.
“The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, ‘everything is fine, take off your masks.’ Forget it. It still matters.”
NEW: President Biden calls Texas and Mississippi decisions to end mask mandates “a big mistake” and criticizes what he views as “Neanderthal thinking” after CDC warned against complacency in the face of emerging coronavirus variants on Monday. pic.twitter.com/Mmdln3gNG6
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 3, 2021
There were a number of reasons Biden’s comments were absurd and obnoxious; particularly since the announcement was made after two Southern states had removed their mask mandates. There was an obvious dog-whistle in the president’s word choice regarding those knuckle-draggers in the lower part of Flyoverville and how they were making it more difficult for good Biden voters in actual civilization to recover from the pandemic.
Another problematic aspect of the remark was the implicit belief there was a one-size-fits-all prescription to deal with the pandemic: Wear your mask, don’t go out, only eat and shop in sparsely populated establishments when you do, and just wait until the administration gets all this squared away. Be a patriot. Mask up.
But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way for cities and states to deal with this — something we should have learned after over a year of lockdowns. As proof, consider that almost half of reported COVID-19 cases between March 29 and April 4 came from five states. Four of them have Democratic governors, three of them are run by notorious masking-hawks, and all of them are populous.
New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey were responsible for 44 percent of new reported cases last week, Fox News reported, logging about 197,500 out of the roughly 452,000 nationwide
New York is still nominally under the control of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, although he’s spent more time fending off accusations of sexual misconduct than fighting people who want to reopen their businesses. With 52,922 cases last week, New York accounted for 12 percent of the nation’s COVID case total for the week, Fox reported.
Michigan, meanwhile, saw 47,036 new cases to put it second, according to Fox. Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is known for implementing some of the nation’s strictest lockdowns — and yet, her state is seeing a rapid spike in cases, according to New York Times data
Florida isn’t necessarily seeing a spike, according to The Times’ data but it’s still one of the nation’s most populous states. It recorded 37,927 cases last week, according to Fox. It’s also the only one of the five states with a Republican governor, Ron DeSantis.
Pennsylvania, with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, was fourth with 29,847 cases, according to Fox. New Jersey, with Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy — another lockdown-friendly governor — was fifth with 29,753 cases.
And per capita cases? It doesn’t look much different there, politically speaking.
According to data from The Washington Post, the 7-day rolling average ending on April 7 showed Michigan with the most per capita, owing to the recent spike; there were roughly 70 reported cases per 100,000 residents there.
New Jersey was second with roughly 47 per 100,000, New York third with 38 per 100,000, Rhode Island fourth with 36 per 100,000. Minnesota and Florida tied for fifth with 33 per 100,000.
Again, not to put too fine a point on it, but except for Florida, the top five all have Democratic governors.
That said, there was also a geographical pattern, with states in the upper Midwest and Northeast fairing the worst.
As for those “Neanderthal thinking” states? Texas is on the low end of the scale, with 11 cases per 100,000. Mississippi is lower, with roughly 7 cases per 100,000.
Other states that don’t have a mask mandate also don’t have high per capita infection rates. Arkansas, which had the lowest per capita rate at roughly 5 per 100,000, has no mask mandate, according to NBC News.
In short, “Neanderthal thinking” isn’t necessarily to blame for any spike in cases. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican who put an end to his state’s mask mandate in mid-February, two weeks before Mississippi and Texas did, had this rejoinder for the president at the time:
If making data-driven decisions to reopen, loving freedom, and trying to get back to normal is what a Neanderthal would do, then well, I guess you can count me as one. https://t.co/TYmjMuoR8Y
— Governor Greg Gianforte (@GovGianforte) March 4, 2021
Except it isn’t “Neanderthal thinking.” It’s federalism: The idea that states can craft policy responses on most things, including COVID-19, better than the federal government. This doesn’t guarantee that they will craft better policy responses, but consider the states that have bungled the pandemic response the worst.
New York immediately comes to mind, and the state’s Cuomo-led response probably wouldn’t have looked too much different if Joe Biden had been president last March.
California has a low case rate now (roughly 6 per 100,000 per capita), but a spike in cases last year, combined with draconian measures meant to combat those spikes and public officials who didn’t think those measures applied to them, is another profile in COVID ineptitude. Again, aside from a few badly timed visits by state officials to a restaurant called the French Laundry, please tell me how this would differ from a Biden-led response.
So picture that and extrapolate it to every state — no matter what the population density is or the demographics are. Throughout the pandemic, there’s been plenty of liberal table-banging about a more uniform national response. If that uniform federal response were to come from Joe Biden, it’d be exactly like New York or California — just more centralized, less efficient and less responsive to conditions on the ground.
Call it “Neanderthal thinking” all you want. When five states are driving America’s COVID numbers, four of them are led by Democratic governors and all four of those have mask mandates, it’s time for the left to stop pretending it knows what works.
And that includes the president.
CORRECTION, April 10, 2021: This article originally misidentified Texas as one of the two states that tied for fifth place in the highest per capita cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. as of April 7. Those states were actually Minnesota and Florida, with 33 cases per 100,000. As the article correctly stated in a later paragraph, the Texas figure was 11 cases per 100,000.
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