Opinion: COVID-19 vs. Politics

Over 250,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19 and people are still arguing whether we should be wearing a mask in public spaces.  Right now, with governors of each state and even the president giving different opinions and advice on how to handle this pandemic, the American people are confused and sometimes misinformed on how to act safely for themselves and others in their community.  What we need is guidance that is purely based on science and not driven by politics. 

Politicians are telling people what to do about COVID-19 instead of doctors. According to the Pew Research Center, 82% of Americans get their information on the Coronavirus from politicians or the news, whereas 18 percent learn from public health officials. This is a dangerous habit Americans have developed because politicians do not have a medical degree and can manipulate facts to their advantage. 

An example of this was on April 23, 2020 when President Trump commented on possible cures for the virus, claiming, “And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute.  One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning.” Regardless of your opinion of the president, we can all agree that Donald Trump is not a doctor. However, many Americans believed those remarks to be true and the numbers for injection of bleach or disinfectant spiked. According to the U.S Poison Control Centers, 3,609 people injected themselves with disinfectant in April of 2020 compared to 1,628 people in 2019.  Additionally, 5,739 people injected themselves with bleach as of April, 2020 compared to 3,242 people in April, 2019. 

Another example can be seen in a White House Press Conference on February 26 when President Trump claimed, “And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” However, Dr. Anne Schuchat had an opposing view when she stated, “However, we do expect more cases, and this is a good time to prepare.” These two claims were made at the same press conference and Americans might sooner trust our President rather than a lesser known doctor, whether President Trump is right or wrong.  Approximately half of the people who rely on President Trump for news about the pandemic think that the virus has been blown out of proportion. 

However, some may argue that politicians are looking at the science and data behind the pandemic.  An example of this could be found in the actions and leadership of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during the early months of the pandemic last year. In a tweet on May 5, Governor Cuomo stated, “Look at the data. Follow the science. Listen to the experts. Be smart.” This is a politician putting aside political motives and helping New Yorkers stay healthy and safe.  Unfortunately, not all government officials followed the same principles.  An example of this is when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claimed at a press conference on July 13th  that the primary reason Florida has more people infected with the virus is because more people are being tested. “Two days ago the state of Florida conducted 144,000 cases. To put that in perspective, when we were here in March, we were probably doing hundreds a day,” DeSantis said.  Although there is truth to this statement, DeSantis does not explain that the reason cases are so high is because people aren’t following COVID protocols. In July, 2020 alone, Florida had approximately 300,000 COVID cases and about 3,000 people died from the virus. 

To solve the problem of misinformation, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) created the Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) manual in 2014 which gave advice on how to communicate during a pandemic, epidemic or scare like Anthrax. There is one very important section titled “Spokesperson” and it states, “ The spokesperson brings the organization to life. He or she embodies the organization and personifies the response.” This manual has advised the country that when there is a health crisis we should have one spokesperson that gathers the information and gives it to the public. 

Under the Trump administration, we have not seen that. We have President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Anne Schuchat and more speaking on this virus and the different viewpoints are dangerous towards the health of the American people. A pandemic is a nonpartisan issue and our politicians should know and practice this.