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Editorial: The White House is waging a dangerous and inexplicable war on public health

Dr. Anthony Fauci discusses coronavirus pandemic. The Trump administration's undermining of Fauci may cost American lives.
Dr. Anthony Fauci discusses the coronavirus pandemic beside President Trump. The Trump administration’s efforts to undermine Fauci foster a distrust of medical expertise that may cost American lives.
(Associated Press)

What people don’t realize is that President Trump is the real hero of the coronavirus pandemic.

Or, at least, he would have been were it not for the meddling of public health “experts” who have fed him bad information from the start just to make him look inept and damage his chance of reelection, probably on orders from Democrats and the Deep State. It is they, not the commander in chief, who are responsible for the U.S.’s disgraceful position as the top COVID-19 hot spot with more than 138,000 deaths.

That, apparently, is one possible narrative that the White House is advancing with its perplexing and dangerous war on public health institutions and leadership just when the nation needs them the most. COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the country, including in key presidential battleground states. And instead of responding with appropriate concern and action to control infections, the president and his aides have chosen to attack the credibility of the people and institutions that are trying, with their limited ability, to protect the public.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s preeminent infectious disease fighting agency, has been systemically demeaned and hobbled by the Trump administration throughout the pandemic. Things got much worse last week when the president decided he didn’t like the CDC’s guidelines for protecting against COVID-19 transmission in schools and ordered the agency to revise them to reflect his unscientific view that schools should fully reopen in fall. So far, those guidelines haven’t been revised; instead, the Trump administration now plans to put out its own.

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More worrisome, however, is the move to shift the collection of hospital COVID-19 data from the CDC to the Department of Health and Human Services. The move is touted as an effort to streamline data gathering, which is not a bad idea. However, needlessly cutting the CDC off from the data makes the move appear punitive. And it’s extra troubling because of the concern that the data may become less accessible to the public and to pandemic researchers, while becoming more vulnerable to political manipulation.

Usurping CDC authority might be unwise, but at least it makes some twisted political sense. By contrast, it’s hard to see what the president gains when top aides smear his own coronavirus expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and arguably the most trusted public health leader in the nation.

Earlier this week, the White House released a statement to some reporters cataloging the times that Fauci “has been wrong on things.” The list includes Fauci’s doubts early on about asymptomatic spread of the virus and whether face masks offered any protection from infection, both positions that reflected how little was known about the novel coronavirus at the time. A few days later, Trump’s trade advisor Peter Navarro referenced the same comments in a USA Today op-ed, declaring, “Anthony Fauci has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.”

Fauci has corrected himself on those points and has always qualified his public comments by noting how nothing was certain about this new virus.

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It’s good that the healthcare community is pushing back on the rhetorical assaults and rising to the defense of the CDC and Fauci, who is a hero within the infectious disease community. But the attacks must stop. This isn’t just a political game, people are sick and dying. How many more will do so depends on whether health experts are allowed to do their work. There are real-world effects to the sustained demeaning of the individuals and institutions scrambling to analyze the fast-moving science and outbreak data and to translate that into public health policies in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. Local public health officials are being attacked and their sensible, science-based recommendations ignored.

And that’s a problem for the trajectory of the outbreak today and in the future. If so many people are ignoring face mask guidelines now, how likely are they to accept a new COVID-19 vaccination in six months or so from sources that have been relentlessly delegitimized and contradicted by the president?


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