‘Post-truth era’ brings grim consequences

Local and state stats were new pandemic highs Friday


By Steve Andrist

By Steve Andrist

Thank goodness it’s Friday.

There are likely mighty few school students who haven’t uttered that phrase as they looked forward to a weekend free from the rigors of classroom work and homework assignments.

Last week the words were uttered by a school superintendent.

“It’s a good thing it’s Friday,” said Divide County School District Superintendent Sherlock Hirning, because staffing levels wouldn’t have supported keeping the schools open the next day.

Friday was the day that both Divide County and North Dakota set new records, records that didn’t have anything to do with the weather.

But these records were just as dubious as those 40-below-zero temperature recordings. There were more positive cases of Covid Friday in both jurisdictions than there have been since the beginning of the pandemic.

The number of cases reported statewide Friday was 11,991, surpassing the record of 11,656 set in November of 2020.

It’s particularly telling that the previous record was set before any coronavirus vaccines were available.

It’s clear by now that these burgeoning numbers mean different things to different people. On one end of the spectrum, folks see this disease as just another flu that won’t really make them that sick. On the other, folks see that even if some people don’t get that sick, they can still spread the disease to friends and neighbors who may be more vulnerable to serious illness or even death.

In between, there are undeniable consequences. Schools like Divide County have faced staffing shortages because teachers and substitutes have tested positive, have been close contacts or their kids go to daycare centers that have been closed.

Statewide – nationally, actually – hundreds of staff at long term care centers have tested positive and left nursing homes critically short of workers. Worse, many of those workers are throwing up their hands and deciding not to come back to work.

Burnout levels among staff at medical centers are reaching all-time highs, leaving patients, Covid or otherwise, at risk of substandard care just as hospital beds are reaching toward capacity.

Food banks are finding increasing need for their services, but Covid has resulted in critical shortages of volunteers to provide them.

Sporting events, from high school to college to professional, have been postponed or canceled.

All of this appears to be exacerbated by a phenomenon that keeps people at each other’s throats over vaccine hesitancy, mask shaming, and the collision of individual rights versus the common good.

That phenomenon was quantified recently by an international study that suggests we are now living in the “post-truth era.”

It bears repeating.

The post-truth era.

In “The Rise and Fall of Rationality in Language,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists from Indiana University and Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands concluded that “Our public debate seems increasingly driven by what people want to be true rather than what is actually true.”

If you’re inclined to believe this phenomenon took hold in the Trump years, you’d be wrong. The researchers found that the change from facts to feelings has been under way for 40 years, though they report the “fact vs. fiction” divide widened during the Trump era.

The divide, researchers learned in a particularly large and detailed study, clearly impacts our politics and public policy, deepening the divisions between political parties and growing the polarization that afflicts our government systems.

That’s a problem, but not nearly as much of a problem as it is in the areas of health and science. When feelings and beliefs become more important in pandemics and other health crises than science and facts, the spread of misinformation and falsehoods can become a matter of life and death.

A Medscape report on the study says public health experts believe the embrace of believing what we want to be true rather than what is true has kept many Americans from being vaccinated against Covid.

It could also be why North Dakota continues to set dubious records.

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