Public health experts are increasingly frustrated with America's lack of leadership on coronavirus

Even after widespread lockdowns, the United States has failed to stomp out the coronavirus and again finds itself in a rapid surge of cases. Public health ex...

Posted: Jun 26, 2020 9:50 AM

Even after widespread lockdowns, the United States has failed to stomp out the coronavirus and again finds itself in a rapid surge of cases. Public health experts place particular blame on a lack of leadership.

These experts are increasingly frustrated with American political leadership from the President on down that has repeatedly shirked its national role, passed responsibility onto citizens to decide for themselves, and turned simple public health measures into divisive, partisan talking points.

President Donald Trump and many of his supporters don't wear masks -- one of the simplest and cheapest layers of protection in dealing with a respiratory virus. And many state and local leaders have been slow to require mask wearing when you can't social distance.

"To turn it into a political act is exceedingly undermining the health of the nation," said Cheryl Healton, the dean of the NYU School of Global Public Health.

"When you make it a partisan thing or when you simply as the leader mock it conceptually, mock the disease, make up things about the disease trajectory that are not true, talk about manners in which you can protect yourself that are false, when you have someone who wants to live in that anti-science narrative when we are the victim of a major dilemma that can only be solved by a science-based intervention, that's a huge problem."

CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said American leaders are still not having the necessary discussions to solve the crisis.

"We're still having these arguments about whether or not we should put these band-aids on the problem, such as masks," Gupta said Thursday. "(They're) effective band-aids, but still band-aids on this problem. And we're still not even sure we want to do that."

"We've got a patient bleeding out in front of us, we know what to do, and we are not doing it. And it's frustrating for sure."

The frustrations reflect the ever-present tensions between our collective responsibility to each other and our individualism, said Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner and a visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

But when politicians attack their evidence-based and non-ideological advice, you get major problems, Wen said.

"If President Trump or some other elected official is making mask-wearing a political or partisan issue, then they're also saying that the advice from public health experts is partisan, and then public health as a whole loses the credibility that it really needs in order to guide this pandemic," she said.

Public health v. private health

The idea that people can decide what's right for themselves while a contagious disease spreads is "absurd," Healton said.

"Any one of us can be a walking weapon because we don't know we're infected and we're infecting others," she said. "So the way it's been described very articulately by Tony Fauci is that (wearing a mask) you're protecting yourself and protecting others, and at any moment you don't know which (you are)."

The steps needed to slow and stop this pandemic are not a mystery. Public health experts have made clear what is needed: social distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing, testing, contact tracing, isolating the sick and, in the near future, treatment and vaccination.

Dr. Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox, said experts foresaw a pandemic would come one day, but they didn't expect the leadership vacuum at the top.

"The thing we did not see coming was not the virus. We didn't see the total absence of the federal government leadership that we have become accustomed to in every other outbreak," he said. "We know what to do."

New York, once the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, used these strategies and an extended lockdown to cut down on its outbreak of cases.

Now on the other side of the pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo openly mocked political leaders who he said put ideology over science.

"You can't have a political theory on how to deal with the virus. You can't. It's a virus. It doesn't respond to political theory. It responds to science and data," he said.

That message may be beginning to get through, albeit slowly. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott halted the state's reopening plan amid a surge, North Carolina mandated masks across the state and localities in southern Florida have implemented orders requiring masks -- despite some citizens' vocal displeasure.

Cuomo said it was important for local and state leaders to take more responsibility rather than passing the buck to citizens.

"I understand it's not easy. I understand it's not popular," he said Wednesday. "Welcome to government in the middle of a global crisis."

In the long term, those that follow the evidence will have the best results, Dr. Wen said.

"The best we can do is with the evidence that we have. I think that history will bear out that those elected officials who allowed public health leaders to guide them and to lead with public health and science, I think we will see that those are the places where most lives were saved," she said.

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Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1389443

Reported Deaths: 25592
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook55642910467
DuPage924131318
Will769631033
Lake683861018
Kane59457808
Winnebago34140507
Madison30959526
McHenry29200295
St. Clair28348519
Peoria23455343
Champaign21112155
Sangamon19103240
McLean18560188
Tazewell17232305
Rock Island15247329
Kankakee14562217
Kendall1328599
LaSalle12789250
Macon10998211
DeKalb10123121
Vermilion10035143
Adams8694127
Williamson7609134
Whiteside7199174
Boone683878
Ogle621183
Grundy598778
Clinton578991
Coles5774100
Knox5647154
Jackson510165
Henry507970
Livingston489991
Woodford484482
Stephenson482785
Macoupin478388
Effingham476972
Franklin454278
Marion4515117
Jefferson4424122
Monroe438694
Lee419354
Randolph416587
Fulton405359
Logan398364
Morgan393482
Christian383975
Montgomery379374
Bureau378484
Fayette322955
Perry320360
Iroquois314167
McDonough291051
Jersey271752
Douglas260736
Saline260457
Lawrence241127
Shelby232838
Union228241
Crawford214525
Bond208724
Cass203527
Ford189048
Warren184349
Clark183933
Jo Daviess182724
Pike182153
Wayne181253
Hancock180931
Carroll178537
Edgar177040
Richland176940
White170626
Washington164825
Moultrie163128
De Witt157229
Mason154245
Piatt152414
Clay149743
Mercer149334
Johnson148116
Greene145234
Massac135940
Wabash135612
Cumberland130219
Menard125012
Jasper116718
Marshall108119
Hamilton84116
Schuyler7817
Brown7326
Pulaski7007
Stark64824
Edwards57712
Calhoun5302
Henderson52814
Scott4891
Putnam4863
Alexander47411
Gallatin4704
Hardin39112
Pope3284
Unassigned512433
Out of IL350

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 751526

Reported Deaths: 13799
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1033281788
Lake557151010
Allen41710692
St. Joseph36998565
Hamilton36604417
Elkhart29413461
Tippecanoe22914227
Vanderburgh22559400
Porter19359326
Johnson18477389
Hendricks17689317
Clark13228195
Madison13158344
Vigo12625253
LaPorte12420221
Monroe12211176
Delaware10968198
Howard10337225
Kosciusko9630121
Hancock8577147
Bartholomew8172157
Warrick7860156
Floyd7812180
Grant7242179
Wayne7162201
Boone6972103
Morgan6765141
Dubois6221118
Marshall6211116
Cass6017110
Henry5902110
Dearborn589878
Noble581688
Jackson509176
Shelby501796
Lawrence4745122
Gibson445094
Clinton442755
Harrison441775
DeKalb439885
Montgomery438490
Whitley406643
Huntington403181
Steuben400259
Miami395269
Jasper388654
Knox376391
Putnam373260
Wabash362383
Ripley347270
Adams345555
Jefferson336186
White332253
Daviess3033100
Wells295381
Decatur289892
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey273835
LaGrange273172
Scott270156
Clay267148
Washington246136
Randolph244783
Jennings235349
Spencer234631
Starke228058
Fountain221048
Sullivan214643
Owen212158
Fulton203042
Jay200932
Carroll193720
Orange188255
Perry187237
Rush175926
Vermillion174844
Franklin170335
Tipton166446
Parke149616
Pike138134
Blackford136232
Pulaski120747
Newton114336
Brown104243
Crawford102516
Benton101914
Martin91715
Warren84015
Switzerland8148
Union72810
Ohio57911
Unassigned0420