Government mishandles COVID-19 epidemic

Amidst breaking news of a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., I was far from assured by President Trump’s decision to place Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the response team. Instead of gathering qualified individuals with experience in healthcare, Trump’s decision to appoint Pence reflects his overall inadequacy in handling the situation effectively and hints at dangerous repercussions to come.

Following the second coronavirus death in Washington, the Trump Administration scrambled to dismiss blows from critics who attacked their response to the cases. During a press conference aimed primarily at soothing paranoid stockholders, Trump greatly underplayed the severity of the situation, claiming that there was a “low risk” of an outbreak. Soon afterward and almost ironically, the stock market crashed harder than ever since the Great Recession and American scientists discovered that the coronavirus had already been spreading undetected for weeks. 

With the departure of infectious disease experts Timothy Ziemer and Tom Bossert in 2018, the watchdog groups set up under President Obama to monitor disease epidemics have become basically nonexistent.

Trump handing off the coronavirus responsibilities to Pence is an act of laziness that demonstrates his lack of concern, given Pence’s staggering incompetence in public health. The Indiana HIV crisis spiked under Pence’s term as governor due to his refusal to fund safe needle exchanges until the HIV incidence rates of Austin County were higher than any Sub-Saharan African country. In addition to the further budget cuts proposed for the Center for Disease Control by Trump (700 hundred jobs still remain vacant from a hiring freeze), the Trump Administration demonstrates a troubling trend of deprioritizing public health. If this is their strategy for reassuring the public, it’s not a good look. 

Meanwhile, Trump found new fuel to fire up his witch hunt narrative during a rally in South Carolina. Accusing Democrats of blowing the virus out of proportion for political gain, he labeled it as their latest “hoax.” 

Trump’s initial response has been sloppy, unprofessional and marred by partisanship. While I find attempts by Democratic primary candidates to capitalize on America’s latest misfortune sickening at best, I’d also expect the sitting president to resist making a fool out of himself when strong leadership is needed most.

Maybe if our government spent more time staying informed on real events than worrying about reelection prospects, it would take the time to properly educate itself. It’s especially evident after the first coronavirus death where Trump misidentified the male patient as a woman in her late 50s. Even though Trump is notorious for his complete disregard of fact-checking, one might hope that he takes it a bit more seriously when human lives are at stake. 

Time still remains for the Trump Administration to prevent the coronavirus from blowing out of control. Whether or not they are willing to recognize their incompetence in certain areas and make corrections is yet to be seen.