In late 2015, Australian journalist Laura Tingle wrote an article entitled “Political Amnesia: How We Forgot How To Govern.” Her central claim in the essay was that a lack of historical knowledge had become one of the main problems in contemporary Australian politics. In addition to a lack of institutional memory, she also highlighted a broader failure to recognize the value of debate and dissent. Combined with a 24 hour news cycle wherein mainstream media prefers an “inside story” more highly that in-depth coverage, debate and deliberation became less valued.
Yesterday, Riverside County announced that they are giving away 10 million masks in an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the county. Case rates have accelerated since early June and deaths have skyrocketed since early July.
“We fight the virus with medicine, and in the absence of a vaccine, these masks are medicine,” said Lou Monville, Chair of the Riverside County Economic Recovery Task Force.
County officials were singing quite a different tune on May 8th. With a unanimous Board of Supervisors vote, they asked the county’s public health officer to lift three orders that went beyond state restrictions — including a mandate to cover faces and social distance in public. The motion to lift these public heath orders was put forward by Supervisor V. Manuel Perez and Supervisor Karen Spiegel.
Supervisor Spiegel provided an important update yesterday – she tested positive for COVID-19. Thankfully, she reported that she has only experienced minor symptoms of fever and fatigue. “The fever is gone, but I am still tired,” she said. “I am fortunate.” Spiegel used the occasion to urge constituents to wear face coverings, practice social distancing and get tested. “None of us are immune,” she said by phone. “We’ve got to be aware and more careful.”
Political amnesia is on full display in Riverside County. Rather than engaging in meaningful debate in early May, the Supervisors were more intent upon sending Governor Newsom a message of defiance. 4th District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, the board chair, called the guidelines unattainable and impossible. 5th District Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said that he didn’t feel he needed to wear a mask, citing conflicting evidence of its benefits.
At that time, Supervisors expressed interest in teaming up with other counties to form a coalition to approach Newsom about easing restrictions. “We will have more power in numbers,” 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington
Here are the numbers – there have been 34,513 cases and 657 deaths in Riverside County from COVID-19 to date.
As a public, we cannot suffer from the same amnesia that affects our politicians.