On Wednesday evening the United States surpassed 750,000 deaths from coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins data. Some newsrooms blasted out alerts about the “haunting milestone.” Others did not.

Broadly speaking, the three-quarters of a million figure certainly didn’t receive the same degree of media attention as 100,000 dead, or 250,000, or 500,000. But it seems to me that Covid — the deaths, the despair, the fatigue — goes a long way toward explaining what happened in Tuesday’s elections.

Ask yourself: In 50 years, how will the year 2020 be remembered? Quite possibly as the year of the pandemic. 2021? As the year of vaccines and reimaginings and rebirth. Think of the timing: The CDC cleared the way for vaccinations among children ages 5-11 on the very same day that off-year elections were being held across the country. Shots were administered on Wednesday morning.

CNN’s John King brought up the Covid angle repeatedly during Tuesday’s coverage. “Nineteen months into the Covid pandemic,” he said, “you have Covid exhaustion, whether it’s from a public health standpoint; whether it’s ‘what about my kids at school’ standpoint; whether it’s about ‘why hasn’t the economy come booming back’ standpoint.” Exactly!

Many of Wednesday’s postmortems about Democratic weakness and Republican strength at the polls were about “education” and “critical race theory” and “wokeness.” That’s understandable, but the best articles are also layering in pandemic discontent and a profound desire to get back to normal. Those factors are front and center, even as the death toll continues to rise, chiefly among the unvaccinated…

Three smart points about this

— The Atlantic’s Zachary D. Carter wrote: “Republican victories in Virginia show how Covid-19 has fundamentally changed American politics…”
— WaPo Opinion writer Helaine Olen tweeted: “The Democrats are facing a real dilemma when it comes to Covid. Post vaccines, most people want to resume a more or less normal life. But a not insignificant minority remain fairly scared. That latter group is disproportionately Democratic. This won’t be easy to navigate…
— AEI scholar Norman Ornstein commented: “Covid is being underestimated as a factor in these elections. Upheaval and fatigue, continuing well into a second year, and especially the school closings, had a lot to do with the dramatic change in numbers/votes of white women w/o college. CRT lies mattered, but so did Covid…”

The schools beat is essential

Teeing up Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia, Mary Katherine Ham made the all-caps point “that SCHOOLS IN MAJOR METRO AREAS WERE CLOSED FOR 18 EFFING MONTHS. So, you know, that ticked some people off.”
The term “education” can mean many things. “Schools” is a more specific way to get at the turmoil on the local level. As CNN’s Katie Lobosco wrote Wednesday, “After a year of contentious debates over mask mandates, social distancing rules and curriculums regarding race, new candidates challenged incumbent school board members Tuesday in elections across the country.”
School boards are the “front line of Covid politics and culture wars.” It’s hard to compile a complete picture of what’s going on because, Lobosco wrote, “there’s no database tracking school board races across the country.” But it’s clear that “some boards will see a shakeup after Tuesday’s elections.” Shakeups that likely would not have happened without the pandemic as an instigator…

“Voters don’t like Covid”

Wednesday’s edition of the Politico Nightly newsletter began with a conversation between deputy health care editor Lauren Morello and former health editor Joanne Kenen.

Kenen remarked, “Virginia and New Jersey told us that voters don’t like Covid. Does Covid care?” Morello responded, “Not at all, Joanne. I’m as tired of Covid as anyone, but the virus will keep doing its thing whether or not we acknowledge its presence or act to limit the threat. Many scientists think the virus will become endemic — that even after the pandemic ends, the SARS-CoV-2 virus will still circulate at some level. So we have to find a way to live with it.”

Now back to the 750,000 figure…

This season of the pandemic is different. “This season’s dead — in what some dare to hope might be the last big surge of the pandemic — are overwhelmingly those who did not get the vaccine,” WaPo’s Marc Fisher, Lori Rozsa and Kayla Ruble wrote Wednesday. I really appreciated how their story captured the various emotions that are at play. They wrote that Brenda Gould, the owner of a funeral home in Metter, Georgia, “hasn’t seen any other cause of death that has divided people quite like Covid has…”

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