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

Residents of Palm Beach County in Florida erupted in anger at a commissioner's meeting after an unanimous vote to make masks mandatory.

Posted: Jun 27, 2020 1:31 AM
Updated: Jun 27, 2020 1:31 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.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 92100

Reported Deaths: 2037
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin26264926
Ramsey10635318
Dakota7280125
Anoka5870132
Stearns386524
Washington365255
Scott248733
Olmsted234627
Nobles194316
Blue Earth16326
Wright15537
St. Louis145138
Carver13757
Clay131640
Rice13118
Mower13085
Sherburne111414
Kandiyohi9552
Winona85518
Lyon6614
Waseca5668
Steele5302
Freeborn5293
Benton5223
Nicollet51516
Watonwan5144
Todd4832
McLeod4702
Chisago4661
Crow Wing46418
Le Sueur4464
Otter Tail4074
Beltrami3885
Martin35710
Goodhue3449
Pine3070
Itasca29914
Polk2944
Douglas2782
Isanti2710
Becker2572
Carlton2461
Cottonwood2190
Unassigned21852
Morrison2161
Pipestone21610
Dodge2140
Chippewa2031
Meeker1892
Sibley1893
Brown1822
Wabasha1800
Yellow Medicine1692
Rock1620
Murray1562
Mille Lacs1533
Redwood1511
Cass1423
Jackson1371
Renville1367
Faribault1320
Swift1231
Houston1170
Koochiching1173
Roseau1170
Kanabec1168
Pennington1151
Fillmore1110
Lincoln1050
Stevens941
Pope900
Hubbard881
Aitkin741
Big Stone730
Wadena670
Grant594
Wilkin583
Lake570
Norman520
Marshall501
Lac qui Parle471
Mahnomen461
Red Lake401
Traverse290
Clearwater260
Lake of the Woods211
Kittson120
Cook60

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 82537

Reported Deaths: 1289
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk15571261
Woodbury517363
Johnson507327
Black Hawk442188
Linn3878109
Story336917
Dubuque298541
Scott287528
Dallas274138
Pottawattamie203338
Buena Vista195912
Marshall176834
Sioux14693
Wapello129657
Webster121314
Clinton109220
Plymouth109120
Muscatine109054
Crawford10425
Cerro Gordo101721
Warren9456
Jasper80232
Des Moines7517
Marion7465
Tama69931
Henry6554
Carroll6505
Lee6137
Wright5701
Dickinson5036
Boone4938
Bremer4757
Washington44911
Louisa42615
Mahaska36819
Delaware3653
Franklin34618
Hamilton3233
Jackson3173
Winneshiek3156
Floyd3103
Clay3094
Benton3021
Hardin2931
Winnebago28413
Lyon2804
Poweshiek2708
Butler2652
Buchanan2621
Clarke2623
Jones2583
Emmet25410
Allamakee2526
Shelby2501
Kossuth2490
Chickasaw2400
Guthrie2406
Clayton2373
Cedar2331
Sac2320
Cherokee2222
Grundy2183
Madison2092
Fayette2052
Iowa1971
Harrison1962
Mitchell1860
Howard1856
Humboldt1833
Calhoun1792
Hancock1772
Mills1731
Palo Alto1720
Pocahontas1562
Lucas1536
Monroe15310
Page1500
Cass1482
Osceola1460
Monona1441
Jefferson1351
Appanoose1293
Taylor1271
Union1263
Davis1224
Van Buren1121
Ida1100
Fremont1040
Worth1040
Keokuk1011
Greene990
Montgomery905
Wayne842
Audubon741
Adair681
Decatur660
Ringgold482
Adams330
Unassigned40
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