James Hamblin of The Atlantic wrote this week that “you’re likely to get the coronavirus.” There’s a cheerful way to start your day, eh? Despite repeated assurances from the CDC and media medical experts over the past couple of months that this was probably no big deal, the coronavirus continues to spread. There are lockdowns in place Iran and some spots in Europe, including Italy, so this is no longer a strictly Chinese problem. And we already have some cases here in the United States, though the numbers remain thankfully small.
But what is the President of the United States doing about it, if anything? That the question being posed today at The Hill by Peter Sullivan. Thus far Trump has been trying to keep everyone calm and reassure us that things are under control. But Sullivan reminds us of how critical Trump was of the government’s response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and suggests that his attitude may be about to change.
“The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” Trump tweeted Monday. “We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
There is already one sign that the administration is stepping up its response: It is planning to submit a request to Congress for emergency funding to fight the virus in the coming days, something Democrats first called for weeks ago.
The Trump administration on Monday night requested $2.5 billion to fight the virus, including $1 billion for vaccine development and funding for supplies like masks.
So some additional funding has been requested, though the two parties are fighting over what the right amount should be. The AP quotes one public health policy expert as saying he’s “pleased that for the most part the White House is staying out of it and they’re letting CDC run the show.” But should he be? The CDC is actually the outfit that needs to be handling this but they are also the ones demonstrating a lack of any sense of urgency.
Look, I understand that part of the job of the President is to remain positive and not alarm people needlessly. And thus far Donald Trump has been doing that. But there’s a difference between putting a positive spin on things and simply whistling past the graveyard. The World Health Organization has already expressed “alarm” at the rapid spread of the virus and said that they are on the verge of declaring it a pandemic. If the CDC isn’t already pouring all available efforts and resources into getting a vaccine in production, the President needs to put a boot to somebody’s backside and make sure that they get into gear.
Also, as Karen recently pointed out, it’s possible that we might already have an effective vaccine sitting in a freezer in Texas. Why we don’t have anyone working on human testing for that already is a frustrating mystery. I don’t want the White House to suddenly start setting people’s hair on fire and causing a panic, but the President could definitely be doing more to not simply reassure people, but let them know that he’s on top of this thing and tell us the specific steps being taken.
Thus far we’ve been fairly lucky in North America. And we’re at least reducing the risk with travel bans and quarantine plans. Also, unless the virus undergoes additional changes, there’s a solid chance you won’t die from the virus even if you catch it. But that situation isn’t going to hold forever. Even if the coronavirus isn’t an apocalyptic strain, there will be one coming sooner or later. How we handle this outbreak and what we learn in the process could make the difference between survival and extinction at some point in the future.