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On US Independence Day, The Masked American Rises

Trump will speak against the backdrop of the historic Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, an event expected to draw more than 7,000 people

Saturday July 4, 2020 9:27 AM, Nikhila Natarajan, IANS

US Independence Day

New York: With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases surging in 40 out of the 50 US states, the masked American has finally emerged as the signature image of the country's Independence Day weekend, after months of flip-flop federal messaging on masking up has evolved into an almost-national level warning from state level leaders.

Flavours of messages

"Mask it or casket", "6 ft apart or 6 ft under" are the flavours of bare knuckle messages flying thick and fast from US state governments as Americans head for familiar hotspots in droves.

Not everyone is following the public health guidance designed to stop the virus from attacking an ever larger population. Those who are masking up and keeping 6 feet apart remain fearful about those who aren't practicing these measures.

"Can you believe it? Our neighbours just drove out to Florida this morning. We're dreading what they'll bring back," Natalia Tucher, a Morristown, New Jersey resident told IANS.

Florida is among four US states along with Arizona, California and Texas that have together a combined total of 25,000 new COVID-19 cases.

Anxious neighbours

Tucher pulled the plug on a planned weekend gathering of barely 10 people because her guests were resisting masks. Yet, she remains anxious because "it makes normal relationships with people in the neighbourhood very tense".

Like Tucher's neighbours, Americans continue to criss-cross the country to holiday spots despite nightmarish data on new infections. The roads seem oddly full on the evening before July 4; fireworks and community events remain on the agenda across the nation although their scale is greatly diminished.

Public health experts are bracing for outcomes from this weekend which they say will be a crucial marker for the trajectory of the domestic outbreak which stalled in April and then roared back in May as states reopened. Doctors on the frontlines say Americans' discipline around social distancing on the July 4 weekend will be decisive for planning hospital surge capacity all of this month.

America's top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci had warned this week that the effects of irresponsible, "devil may care" social behaviour will lead to outcomes much worse than America has seen yet.

Appeal to younger Americans

Fauci has called for societal responsibility among younger Americans in particular, especially those with less risk of falling severely ill but who remain potent carriers of the virus to vulnerable populations.

"Don't forget that you're part of the dynamic process of this disease," he reminded Americans.

Even as Fauci reminds Americans of the interconnected nature of the virus spread, President Donald Trump begins his Independence Day weekend on Friday headlining the antithesis of social distancing.

Trump Mount Rushmore Rally

Trump will speak against the backdrop of the historic Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, an event expected to draw more than 7,000 people where masks and social distancing aren't required.

The country's alarming infection surge has been blamed in large part on Americans not covering their faces or following social distancing rules as states lifted their lockdowns over the past few weeks.

The Mount Rushmore spectacle is a real-time alternative reality show, where the President's hardcore supporters have already begun packing the venue, sporting Trump T-shirts and hats. Masks are optional.

As of Saturday, the US accounted for the world's highest number of infections and fatalities with 2,793,425 and 129,432, respectively, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

(Nikhila Natarajan is on Twitter @byniknat)

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