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Public response to pandemic was divided by politics from beginning, UK professor says

Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 4:09 PM EDT
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - When the pandemic first started, Governor Andy Beshear moved swiftly, enacting restaurant restrictions, as well as a mask mandate in July.

There were even state troopers in the parking lots of churches. For some, those moves were pretty unpopular.

UK political science professor Stephen Voss says it’s no surprise that even the response to a pandemic became a partisan issue.

“A lot of the public response that we saw to the pandemic divided by politics before the politicians really started weighing in. Before we had those top-down messages," Dr. Voss said. "They can track who was socially distancing and who wasn’t at the beginning of the pandemic and it divided along party lines almost immediately.”

While COVID numbers continue to rise in the state, the governor is now making recommendations, asking Kentuckians to buy-in, instead of mandating it.

“I think what we’ve seen across the country is leaders experimenting with different ways to put out these health guidelines to try to figure out what will get the most compliance,” Dr. Voss said.

The governor is also reiterating that many of these suggestions come from the office of a president who may be popular among his biggest critics.

“It is from the White House, I thought it was a good suggestion,” Gov. Beshear said.

“People are so suspicious right now. across party lines, and that anything you can do to indicate ‘hey. look at this case,’ bi-partisan message here, can only add to the willingness of individuals to cooperate to comply,” Dr. Voss said.

Those on the front lines tell me they see misinformation about the virus spread online, but by the time anyone makes it to them, the politics don’t really matter.

“As a healthcare professional you try to be as factual and upfront as possible,” Dr. Ryan Stanton said. "And the benefit that we get to live in in this environment as we are not dealing with politics as much. We are able to talk from a scientific and medical understanding of the virus right now.

Voss says whoever was in Frankfort would have been fighting against an American impulse, we don’t like being told what to do. He also says as the pandemic goes on, people will be forced to act against their political leanings.

We’ll still get the usual partisan spin cycle on who gets blamed for the effects of the pandemic. That’s not going to go away. But the disease is demanding attention that transcends politics.

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