The virus skeptics in Trump's Texas

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The virus skeptics in Trump's Texas

Outside Texas's pandemic-ravaged big cities is Donald Trump country, where the disease is seen as more threatening to personal freedoms than personal health. But skepticism about preventing the spread of the virus reigns even as Covid-19 deaths are beginning to surge.

Masks mostly stay in the truck, where they're fetched only if needed. Even then, they're worn grudgingly out of politeness to business owners—many who are friends or neighbors—and taken off again as soon as possible. That thinking is making it harder to stamp out the latest outbreak as it spreads to the most remote corners of the state, putting a population with the highest concentration of elderly at increasing risk.

A cowboy cut out wears a face mask near Lake Whitney, Texas, on July 23.

Photographer: Picasa

Only four out of Texas's 254 counties remain untouched by Covid-19, down from 23 on June 1. The state has been regularly charting about 10,000 new cases a day in July, and daily deaths were at 173 Thursday, bringing the total to 4,521.

In areas like Bosque County, about 95 miles southwest of Dallas, surging coronavirus deaths compete with the conviction that the pandemic is being hyped to undermine President Trump's reelection. With local case counts still relatively low, many people don't doubt Covid-19 is real, but dismiss it as no worse than a bad flu.

Masks are a particular sore point, as rural residents cite a cascade of contradictory advice about how much they actually help fight the virus.

Bosque, population 18,700, currently has 55 active cases. There are just 25 in Hamilton County, where about 8,500 people live. But both counties have seen a five-fold increase in the past two weeks. What's worse, their percentage of 65-and-older residents is twice the state's average.

"When I go out in the country, a tremendous number of people are wearing masks. They're trying to behave," says Judge Don Pool, Bosque County's highest elected official. "But there's still this element that thinks this is no worse than a cold and they're going to do what they want because it's their right."—Thomas Black

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