Call­ing coro­n­avirus a lib­eral ‘hoax’ is en­dan­ger­ing the pub­lic health

The Kansas City Star - - Opinion - BY ROBERT B. RE­ICH Tri­bune Con­tent Agency

Last week, the U.S. stock mar­ket suf­fered its largest weekly loss since 2008. A health cri­sis is rapidly mor­ph­ing into an eco­nomic cri­sis.

So far, Amer­ica’s re­sponse has left much to be de­sired.

Epi­demi­ol­o­gists in other coun­tries have used “sur­veil­lance test­ing” un­der World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion guide­lines to track the spread of the coro­n­avirus be­fore large num­bers of peo­ple turn up at hos­pi­tals. But ac­cord­ing to a new re­port by ProPublica, the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion lost weeks that could have been used to track its pos­si­ble spread in Amer­ica be­cause it in­sisted upon de­vis­ing its own test, which turned out to be flawed.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion would rather blame the me­dia and the Democrats, and even ques­tion whether the virus is real.

On Fri­day, Trump ac­cused news out­lets such as CNN of “do­ing every­thing they can to in­still fear in peo­ple” and said that some Democrats are “try­ing to gain po­lit­i­cal fa­vor by say­ing a lot of un­truths.” At a cam­paign rally Fri­day evening in South Carolina, he claimed that con­cern about the virus was the Democrats’ “new hoax” af­ter the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion and then im­peach­ment.

Trump’s idea for how to deal with the emerg­ing cri­sis? He says he’s con­sid­er­ing an­other round of tax cuts. As if cut­ting taxes would some­how mo­ti­vate peo­ple fear­ful of con­ta­gion to ven­ture into shop­ping malls, movie the­aters and air­planes. As if pump­ing up the stock mar­ket is the most im­por­tant first step. As if Trump’s ear­lier round of mas­sive tax cuts trick­led down to av­er­age Amer­i­cans.

Trump is also in­struct­ing all gov­ern­ment health of­fi­cials and sci­en­tists who have in­for­ma­tion about the virus to clear their state­ments first with the White House. Yet con­trol­ling the flow of in­for­ma­tion within an ad­min­is­tra­tion that’s not es­pe­cially renowned for truth-telling seems un­likely to in­crease the pub­lic’s con­fi­dence in what they hear.

Trump has al­ready taken sev­eral other steps, all of them back­ward. He has elim­i­nated a National Se­cu­rity Coun­cil po­si­tion that co­or­di­nates re­sponses to pan­demics. He has ig­nored an ex­pert panel’s warn­ing that the United States is badly un­pre­pared for global health threats and needs to re­store fund­ing to ad­dress them. He is re­quest­ing that the CDC’s bud­get be cut by al­most 16%, and the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices bud­get by al­most 10%.

Trump is also propos­ing a $3 bil­lion cut to global health pro­grams, in­clud­ing a 53% cut to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion and a 75% cut to the Pan Amer­i­can Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

When he’s not ac­cus­ing his en­e­mies of hyp­ing the coro­n­avirus or do­ing what he can to un­der­mine the na­tion’s and the world’s abil­ity to cope with it, Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion have been mak­ing the na­tion more vul­ner­a­ble to all sorts of health risks.

He’s de­mand­ing that any­one re­ceiv­ing pub­lic as­sis­tance have a job, which pre­sum­ably will make many peo­ple re­luc­tant to stop work­ing if they feel sick. Be­gin­ning next month, for ex­am­ple, nearly 700,000 Amer­i­cans who aren’t work­ing will no longer be el­i­gi­ble for food stamps. It doesn’t seem to have oc­curred to the Trump­sters that the likely re­sult is for peo­ple with flu symp­toms to ig­nore them in or­der to keep their jobs, thereby spread­ing dis­ease.

Trump’s ob­ses­sive ef­forts to wreck Oba­macare also make the coro­n­avirus and other con­ta­gious dis­eases more dan­ger­ous, for the ob­vi­ous rea­son that peo­ple with­out health in­sur­ance are less likely to see a doc­tor. The num­ber of Amer­i­cans with­out health in­sur­ance has risen steadily dur­ing Trump’s ten­ure. A 2018 poll found that 44% of Amer­i­cans didn’t see a doc­tor be­cause they couldn’t af­ford it.

Trump and Repub­li­cans have re­jected all safety nets — in­clud­ing paid fam­ily leave and guar­an­teed sick leave — that peo­ple need to cope with per­sonal health emer­gen­cies. This also makes Amer­ica less pre­pared for con­ta­gion. A re­cent sur­vey found that 90% of Amer­i­cans still go to work while they’re sick.

What Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion fail to un­der­stand is that per­sonal health and in­di­vid­ual well-be­ing are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to pub­lic health and so­cial well-be­ing. This is not a so­cial­ist hoax.

A new and es­pe­cially vir­u­lent con­ta­gious virus is bad enough. That it is spread­ing at a time when the United States gov­ern­ment is headed by some­one who de­nies it, blames his op­po­nents and dis­man­tles what’s left of the in­sti­tu­tions that could con­tain it, makes the dan­ger far worse.

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY The Associated Press

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump told a South Carolina rally au­di­ence Fri­day that con­cern over the coro­n­avirus is the left’s “new hoax.”

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