Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN. This piece has been updated to reflect the latest news.
The world’s No.1-ranked tennis player, Novak Djokovic, won’t compete in the Australian Open this week after an Australian court unanimously ruled to deport the Serbian tennis star for being unvaccinated against Covid-19 without a valid medical exemption, which would be required to legally enter the country.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the court’s decision as helping “keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe,” thus ending a weekslong saga of court hearings, revoked visas, diplomatic rows and more.
It’s really too bad for Djokovic that he didn’t have his case heard before the United States Supreme Court, which very well may have let the tennis star not only play in the tournament but also hit Covid germs into the stands with his racket. OK, I’m exaggerating about the last part. But in the same week the Australian court upheld the revocation of Djokovic’s visa for not being vaccinated – a rule all tennis players arriving for the tournament have known about since November – America’s top court struck down a similar effort from President Joe Biden to protect the public health of a nation.
Last year, the Biden administration introduced a nationwide mandate for companies with more than 100 employees to require either full vaccination or weekly testing for their workers. The mandate, which would affect about 80 million workers, was immediately challenged.
In Thursday’s Supreme Court decision, the six conservative justices in favor of blocking the mandate did not dispute the federal government’s argument that the weekly testing or vaccine requirement would save thousands of lives “and prevent hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations.” Rather, their decision was based on the view that the Biden administration “lacked authority to impose the mandate,” which states and employers argued would prompt “hundreds of thousands of employees to leave their jobs.”
When it comes to saving lives versus saving on compliance costs, the court astoundingly said, “It is not our role to weigh such tradeoffs.” It did, however, allow for a nationwide vaccine mandate for certain health care workers.
The US Supreme Court has apparently become just as partisan as the rest of the GOP, which has made opposing Covid mandates – from masks to vaccines – an article of faith. The result has been a very real impact on the health of Americans.
For example, in Florida – a state with a population of 21 million, similar to that of Australia’s 25 million – GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis in November signed what he boasted was “the strongest piece of legislation that’s been enacted anywhere in the country” to oppose Covid-19 vaccine requirements. The law imposed fines on businesses and even hospitals that mandated vaccinations without the choice to opt out through medical or religious exemption or proof of natural immunity – despite the fact that having recovered from a Covid-19 infection does not make people immune to getting it again.
This DeSantis-championed law also jaw-droppingly banned school districts from having mask requirements and prohibiting schools from quarantining healthy students who may have been exposed to the virus, all measures that are widely used to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But DeSantis has apparently refused to let a little thing like science stand in the way of scoring points with the GOP base.
In contrast, Australia has imposed strict Covid-19 safeguards, including six lockdowns of Melbourne – a city of 5 million – that totaled more than 260 days. That may seem draconian to some Americans, but the data shows these measures worked to save lives. The nation’s total coronavirus-related death toll in this nearly two-year pandemic totals 2,673 people. Compare that to Florida, where as of Saturday there have been more than 63,000 Covid-related deaths.
It’s impossible to say how many lives would have been saved if Republicans like Florida’s Gov. DeSantis didn’t make opposing Covid-19 safeguards a partisan issue. What we do know is that Australia’s Covid policies have resulted “in one of the lowest death rates, strongest economic recoveries, and highest vaccination rates in the world” – as Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who revoked Djokovic’s visa, said after Sunday’s court ruling.
One data point that jumps out from his statement are vaccination rates. Nearly 80% of all Australians have been vaccinated, and per Hawke that includes 91.6% of Australians older than 16. Compare that to our country, where only 63% of all Americans are fully vaccinated.
Sadly, given the politics of today, the states with higher vaccination rates tend to be the ones that voted for Biden in the 2020 election, while the states that supported former President Donald Trump generally trail behind. Worse, according to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University, “since vaccines have become widely available, the average risk of dying from Covid-19 is more than 50% higher in states that voted for President Trump in 2020 than it is in states that voted for President Biden.”
Recent data backs that up, showing that the states with the highest Covid-related death rate in 2021 were Oklahoma, Alabama and West Virginia – again, Trump-voting states. (Florida was the ninth-highest with a rate of 190 deaths per 100,000 people, totaling nearly 41,000 dead. That was well above the national average rate of 144 Covid-related deaths per 100,000 people.)
So superstar tennis player Djokovic won’t be able to play in the Australian Open – but we can assume he’ll still be fine. He has a net worth of roughly $220 million, and odds are he will win even more tournaments going forward.
I wish we could say the United States will do as well. As long as GOP leaders prioritize scoring points with their base over protecting all Americans, rather than taking a page from Australia’s working safety measures, our nation will become sicker – and not just when it comes to our physical health.