After months of minimizing the COVID-19 crisis, 150,000 lives lost and rapidly escalating coronavirus disease activity, our president finally acknowledged in a July 21 press conference that our country is facing a disaster. Reading a script prepared for him, he was finally, finally ready to promote mask wearing, to resume coronavirus briefings and to promise the development of a pandemic strategy.
This was a result of a political calculus; somehow, his advisers persuaded him to change course. His “we are in a good place” handling of the crisis wasn’t working politically. But he couldn’t help himself and immediately declared that the virus will disappear and touted some of his other favorite points of disinformation. His contradictory messaging continues.
Six months after COVID-19 surfaced in this country, we are still without a national coordinated response, adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, and sufficient levels of testing and contact tracing. The European Union closed its borders to U.S. travelers because COVID-19 is rampant here. We have a president who has minimized the pandemic almost to the point of denying it exists, a president who stopped attending COVID Task Force meetings long ago.
Coronavirus is deaf to the administration’s pervasive disinformation campaign and is delighted with some governors, who, like lemmings, are jumping off a cliff in blind obedience to their leader and political ideology. We’ve had a total lack of federal leadership. Worse, we’ve had detrimental leadership.
We will not gain control over this virus by minimizing, denying or ignoring the situation. “Spinning” is what we have long expected from politicians. But in this case, spinning will unconscionably cost tens of thousands of lives. It’s astonishing to me that a third of Americans totally believe the spin.
Our president has discredited, undermined, dismissed and marginalized the administration’s own Coronavirus Task Force medical experts. Evading science, he has actively crusaded at any cost in political self-interest against their recommendations for reopening the economy. He has especially discredited the expertise of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has the courage to openly contradict the president to truthfully present the best public health advice in a rapidly evolving scientific understanding of COVID-19.
The president exerted political pressure on Dr. Steven Hahn, commissioner of the U.S. Federal Drug Administration, and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to promote his fervently advocated but unfounded positions or to modify their recommendations.
The CDC’s reopening recommendations for businesses and schools and Hahn’s rush to declare emergency authorization of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 are perfect examples. The CDC has been compromised. The Task Force medical experts’ exposure to the public and Congress at times have been limited. Many other examples of interference could be offered. Complete chaos.
Mixing politics and public health is dangerous. Public health policy can become compromised when health officials report to politicians and serve at their pleasure—evidenced by the carefully crafted and sometimes evasive statements of Coronavirus Task Force doctors. They want to keep their jobs.
This country is in critical condition. We can’t look for leadership from our president and vice president. Shame on them. It will be up to governors, mayors and the personal responsibility of everyday citizens to do the right things to protect the populace and one another.
The president’s epiphany into COVID-19 reality was fleeting. If you think we are in a good place, think again.•
Feldman is a family physician, author, lecturer and former Indiana State Department of Health commissioner for Gov. Frank O’Bannon. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for more Forefront columns.