As the nation edges toward full-blown panic over the spread of the coronavirus, there are people and institutions upon whom we depend for leadership and information who should be ashamed of themselves for feeding it. Their response, loaded as it has been with worst-case scenarios and predictions of dire consequences, only compounds the fear many Americans are now experiencing.
So far, the virus has killed more than 6,500 worldwide, according to Monday’s report from the World Health Organization, and there have been about 165,000 confirmed cases. There are likely many more that are unconfirmed, as people can be ill and not show any symptoms. A large study in China found that more than 80 percent of confirmed cases had fairly mild symptoms, and under 5 percent of cases were critical.
That’s insufficient reason for rational people to panic. “Caution” should be the word of the moment. Thought leaders, politicians and medical professionals should be doing their best to prepare people for what might happen rather than pronouncing our doom—and attacking the president, as we saw in Sunday night’s debate between Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, neither of whom had anything positive to say about the steps taken by the administration thus far.
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President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday that could free up $50 billion to help fight the virus. On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo praised his response to the outbreak in the state, as Governor Gavin Newsom did with regard to California.
Nevertheless, most of the folks who have never quite adjusted to the fact that Trump is the president of the United States are quick on the trigger with their criticism no matter what he does. They continue to overstate the lack of response by the U.S. government and blame the president for it.
That’s fair, at least to some degree. As Republican communications expert Rich Galen, my old mentor and former boss, used to remind me back when I was doing politics for a living rather than writing about it, the president gets to take a lot of credit he doesn’t deserve when good things happen, and he has to take a lot of the blame for things well beyond his control.
But remember: Trump didn’t cause the coronavirus and didn’t cause it to spread.
While the president is trying to act like the adult in the room, his opponents are going after him like vultures feeding on roadside carrion. It’s unseemly, and, more than that, the attacks on him undermine the public’s confidence in the national systems we’re depending on to keep us safe and help us manage our lives at a time when many of us can’t go to work, can’t go to our places of worship and can’t send our kids to school.
Recall, for example, Senator Chuck Schumer’s press conference last month in which he called the administration’s response to coronavirus totally inadequate. He also has been demanding expanded free coronavirus testing for anyone who wants it when he knows full well not enough test kits are available.
Likewise, new legislation negotiated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who took the president’s request for $2.5 billion in emergency funding and blew it up into an $8.3 billion aid package, passed the House on Saturday. Democrats initially failed to ensure that abortion services weren’t eligible to receive funds, and they reportedly attempted to establish a permanent paid sick leave entitlement for all families, a longtime Democratic Party desire. What former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel once said about not letting a crisis go to waste is fully on display, and it’s shameful.
To be sure, caution is in order—along with hand washing, avoiding crowds, staying home if you’re sick, covering coughs with your arm and other sensible measures. As for panic, why don’t we ask a person who has had the coronavirus? A 37-year-old woman in Seattle was reportedly “surprised” to learn she’d had the virus, after thinking it was the flu and treating it with over-the-counter medications, rest and plenty of water. Her message: “Don’t panic.”
Or consider what Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” His fellow Democrats and a more than few Republicans would do well to remember those words at this time, given that all they seem to have to offer now is fear.