The politicization of science by the Trump administrations and cuts to health care facilities are raising concerns about his readiness to handle the coronavirus epidemic.
The first known death of the virus on American soil was reported on Saturday in Washington state. Sixty-six cases have been reported across the country and thousands more worldwide.
But health experts say the Trump administration is still sending mixed messages about a growing public health crisis.
This undermines public confidence, said Dr. Georges C Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, to the Guardian. It is not well coordinated.
Before a press conference in the White House on Saturday, Donald Trump repeatedly downplayed the issue and echoed allies in the conservative media by accusing political opponents and the media exaggerate the threat in order to make it look bad while markets are suffering, threatening the US economy.
On Saturday, the president repeatedly praised what he called the most aggressive action in modern history to fight this disease.
Our country is ready for any circumstance, we hope it will not be a major circumstance, said Trump, asking the media and politicians to do nothing to incite panic.
Trump and federal health officials have also sought to reassure the public about the nature of the coronavirus, if it was in a calmer tone than those chosen by Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff to the presidents , at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.
Suggesting that the media was inflating the issue to bring the president down, Mulvaney said the virus was less threatening than previous public health crises, such as the 2014 Ebola crisis.
This is not a death sentence, Mulvaney told me.
However, public health officials have repeatedly warned of the severity of the epidemic. Saturday at the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases explained in detail how most coronavirus deaths occur in older adults with health conditions, but young people die in peripheral cases.
Ultimately, we expect the community to spread to this country, said Nancy Messonnier, immunization manager at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this week. It is not so much a question of if it will happen more, but rather more exactly when that will happen and how many people in this country will have a serious illness.
It could be bad, added Messonnier.
Experts warn that conflicting statements could complicate the response of public health officials to the crisis at the federal, state and local levels.
If you have different messengers that deliver different messages, this is a recipe for confusion and this could potentially affect the effectiveness of the response, said Dr. Josh Michaud, Associate Director of Health Policy world at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Administrations continued to dismiss the gravity of the situation, which also exacerbated fears of not taking the threat seriously enough and of already being in a weakened position due to funding and program reductions health.
The Trump administration has repeatedly proposed major cuts to health and science agencies, included in the 2021 budget, in which he called for a reduction of nearly 10% in overall funding for health and social services and a reduction of almost 16% in the CDC.
While Congress has ignored these proposed reductions and instead increased funding for the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, some initiatives to control the epidemics have been cut or dropped.
In 2018, when the White House refused to provide the agency with additional resources, the CDC reduced size 80% of programs to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. In the same year, the administration closed the National Health Councils' global health security unit.
Robert OBrien, Trumps national security advisor, suggested these reductions were part of a rationalization of the NSC. But former officials have expressed concern.
This is why you have a National Security Council, the former Pentagon speech writer John Gans, who wrote a book on the NSC, told NBC News this week.
Experts said the Guardian's public health funding problems predated the Trump administration.
It is the fault of many people, said Benjamin, adding that the current administration has exacerbated the issue.
Whenever something new like this happens, it's going to be messy, said the executive director of APHA about the coronavirus. But several of the actions of administrations have undermined our preparation.
Dr. John Ioannidis, president of disease prevention at Stanford University medical school, called for calm, warning of an epidemic of panic and extreme measures in response to the virus.
Self-proclaimed politicians and experts should speak less, Ioannidis told The Guardian in an email.
Others, however, continued to express concern. The United States has already encountered problems with defective test kits and delayed diagnosis for a Californian woman considered the first example of community spread in the country.
Critics of the administration also expressed concern over the $ 2.5 billion the White House had asked Congress for this week, saying it was too small to solve the problem properly.
Concerns have also been expressed about Trump's appointment of Vice President Mike Pence to coordinate the government's response. Trump has made the choice to put someone absolutely not up to this crucial position, tweeted Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale University, after the announcement.
They have to do a lot of work to restore public confidence, said Benjamin. Hope they learn this lesson.
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