The video clipbegins innocently enough. the scene is the white house rose garden. the occasion: us president donald trumps announcement of amy coney barretts nomination to the supreme court. as mr trump and ms barrett prepare to take the stage, the events nearly 200-guests mingle, the vast majority of them mask-less.

In this particular clip, a news camera chronicling the scene follows one of the guests, mike lee, republican senator from utah. mask clasped in his left fist, mr lee reaches out and repeatedly grasps another mans arm, before spotting a female acquaintance and pulling her into a tight embrace. when he spies the man she is with, he extends the embrace to pull all three of them into a bear hug.

Within a week, mr lee announced he had tested positive for coronavirus one of at least half a dozen guests who have said after attending the event that they were infected.

Watching the video is like watching a slow-motion car crash in a world where most of us have spent the past six months travelling by foot. online, people posting the clip reflected on how many such embraces they had shared since the pandemic began. five, one wrote. zero, said another.

Since the us first locked down in march, the country has been living in two split universes. one group has spent months bleaching their groceries, going without seeing friends and family, and are yet to enjoy a meal inside a restaurant; another has taken to heart the trump white houses proclamations that concerns about the virus were overblown and the economy should fully reopen with no extra precautions taken.

For the first group, mask wearing has become a form of virtue signalling the absence of one in public is enough to garner a dirty look. for the second, the mask draws scorn a feeling mr trump has tapped as he mocked his democratic opponent joe biden for frequently wearing one at last weeks presidential debate.

Nowhere have those worlds collided more than in washington, where some white house and congressional staffers reported feeing pressured not to wear masks, because their bosses either did not believe in them or thought they made them look scared or weak.

You were looked down upon when you would walk by with a mask, olivia troye, a former top aide on the coronavirus task force who resigned in august and endorsed mr biden,told the new york times.

At a trump campaign rally in michigan last month, attendees wereasked by a cnn news crewwhy they had chosen to stand in the tightly packed eventwithout a mask.

Because there's no covid it's a fake pandemic created to destroy the united states of america, answered one. if i die, i die, replied another.what areyou going to do, weara mask and stay inside for another year? wherell that get us?

A 2016 trump voter i spoke to in virginia, who is still not sure which candidate she will vote for in november, recalled the consternation she felt in her own community with no one wearing masks at gas stations and the grocery store cashiers mask left dangling around her chin. the first time she saw that she didnt speak up, she says, but the next time she asked: why wasnt she wearing her mask? this is america, the cashier responded indignantly.

Will mr trumps diagnosis and hospitalisation bring these two worlds closer together? it is too soon to say. a speedy recovery for mr trump could make those at risk of the virus feel more emboldened.

On saturday, the president proclaimed that new, experimental treatments, including those prescribed by his doctors, were already working: we have things happening that look like theyre miracles coming down from god.

At the same time, across the country, the number of coronavirus infections is starting to rise again.

On sunday, mr trumps senior campaign adviser jason miller appeared on television to strike a different tone from the presidents previous messages. mr trump, he added, had told him to remind the american people to wash their hands, use hand sanitiser, make sure that if you cant socially distance, to wear a mask.

Well see who listens this time.