Opinion | One Thing Democrats and Republicans Had in Common During the Pandemic

By Anupam B. Jena

Dr. Jena is an associate professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School.

A defining feature of the American experience of the pandemic has been the high degree of political polarization. There’s also a narrative, supported by studies of varying methodology and rigor, that Republicans and Democrats disagree about the risks of Covid-19 and the need for mask mandates, lockdowns and vaccinations.

While the politicization of the pandemic is undeniable, the focus on it has obscured a simple truth: Everyone has made sacrifices, no one has been spared, and the shared experience of the last year and a half has been sorely underappreciated relative to the differences.

The data also suggests that while there are some large disparities that fall along political lines — in vaccinations, self-reported mask use and closures of businesses and schools — people’s actual behavior may not have been as polarized. What people were willing to take risks for during the pandemic have been quite similar.

In a recent study on the link between birthdays and Covid-19 cases, my colleagues and I used health insurance data from nearly three million U.S. households to compare rates of Covid-19 infection in households with and without a birthday in the previous two weeks.

We found that in counties where Covid-19 was prevalent, infections in households increased by nearly 30 percent in the two weeks following a household birthday, compared to households that did not have a birthday. This “birthday effect” was even larger in households with a child’s birthday.

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