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Zirpoli: For COVID-19, Americans want valid information

As of Tuesday, the virus called COVID-19 has been identified in more than 91,000 people globally and in 105 people in the United States, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracking program (systems.jhu.edu). Worldwide, the death toll from COVID-19 is over 3,118, with most of these in China.

The good news is that the virus seems to have a low fatality rate of around 2% with the majority of deaths occurring among the elderly. While this puts the fatality rate for COVID-19 at about 20 times greater than the typical flu, this variance may decrease as the virus spreads among healthier populations.

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Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases warned Americans that they should “expect” to see the virus “spread in this country.” But Messonier’s message was not appreciated by President Donald Trump, who seems more concerned about the stock market tanking than giving Americans honest and helpful information about the virus.

Messonier and other health experts have been silenced by the president and ordered to get permission from the White House before talking to the public. On Sunday, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was ordered not to appear on five Sunday morning talk shows to discuss the virus.

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Truth is the biggest casualty of the Trump administration. But it is one thing to mislead Americans about the size of his inaugural crowd; it’s another to mislead us or leave us in the dark about a spreading virus. China is Exhibit A of what happens when governments rely on politicians instead of medical experts to deal with a health-care crisis.

Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, declared last week, “We have contained this. I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight.” In fact, Kudlow had no information to lead him to believe that the virus is “contained.” He was simply making stuff up to fit Trump’s narrative that his administration had everything under control.

Trump was also spreading misinformation when he said last Tuesday, “The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA” and “Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” What alternative universe is Trump living? He does not know if the virus is “under control” any more than Kudlow knows that it is “contained.” Trump later called the virus a Democratic “hoax.” He should tell that to the families of the 3,000 people who have died.

Trump is spending billions of dollars to build a wall on our southern border that will not make Americans safer while the money to build the wall could help health officials at the CDC who, on Trump’s orders, are under a hiring freeze. According to multiple media outlets, there are about 700 vacant positions at the CDC that are hindering the federal government’s ability to support local and state emergency readiness in response to infectious diseases.

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Trump also eliminated the Global Health Security Teams, a rapid response group set up by President Barack Obama within the Department of Homeland Security, in response to the Ebola outbreak. These teams were put in place to help America respond to diseases like COVID-19. Trump is building a useless wall that will protect us from imaginary dangers while cutting CDC and emergency response teams that protect us from real and present dangers.

Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to be in charge of the administration’s task force to coordinate the federal response to the virus. When Pence named his first two members of the task force — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Kudlow — it became clear that protecting the economy was going to be his priority. A few days later, Pence promptly got to work protecting Americans by flying to Sarasota, Florida, to attend a $25,000-a-plate dinner to raise money for Trump’s reelection.

Americans would have more faith in Trump’s response if he would have named any number of CDC experts to lead this effort, not a politician who doesn’t believe in evolution or climate change, and who once wrote an op-ed arguing that smoking doesn’t cause cancer. He should allow CDC and NIH experts to speak freely. We are not China.

Americans want valid information from health care experts, not Trump stooges who can’t be trusted to tell the truth and who are focused on Trump’s well-being rather than the nation’s.

Tom Zirpoli is the program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. He is from Westminster and his column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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