Baker Institute: Politics are hindering public health

Partisan divisions about the pandemic are negatively affecting public health and economic recovery, according to experts at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Christopher Kulesza, research analyst for the Child Health Policy program, and Quianta Moore, fellow in child health policy at the institute, are available to talk to the news media about the intersection of politics and public health.

“Public health should not be a political issue,” they wrote in a recent Baker Institute blog post. “The division between the public across party lines is hindering our progress as a nation to restore the health and vitality of our country and its residents. We must set aside political ideologies and follow data, evidence and science.”

Polling between Republicans and Democrats conducted since March has documented a partisan divide in response to the pandemic, according to the authors. For instance, a recent Pew Research poll showed that most Americans are wearing masks, but rates differ by individual party identification – half of Republicans said they wear a mask most or all of the time compared to 76% of Democrats.

The authors argue there is overwhelming evidence now, as opposed to the beginning of the year, that masks can be highly effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19. Yet “there is still a wide gap between recent medical research findings on COVID-19 and public opinion.”

State and federal leaders on both sides have become more open to public mask requirements, according to the authors. However, “none of the Southern or Western governors have publicly considered instating a lockdown similar to that which brought the New York City epidemic under control.”

Kulesza and Moore argue it is more critical now than at any time during the pandemic to set aside partisanship and to direct policy using an evidence-based approach.

“State and local policy officials may need to make decisions that are unpopular with their respective voter base to ensure a safe return to work,” they wrote. “If they do not, we risk prolonging the pandemic and further delaying our economic recovery and experiencing a greater loss of life.”

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