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Can we put partisan politics aside during the pandemic?

March 18, 2020

Topics: Quote of the Day

By Bobby Allyn, Barbara Sprunt
NPR, March 17, 2020

In the face of the coronavirus worsening across the U.S. and reordering the daily life of millions of Americans, fewer people view the pandemic as a real threat, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

Just about 56% of Americans consider the coronavirus a “real threat,” representing a drop of 10 percentage points from last month. At the same time, a growing number of Americans think the coronavirus is being “blown out of proportion.”

The differences between political parties are stark, with a majority of Republicans saying it is overblown and the vast majority of Democrats considering it a legitimate threat.

“Since the pandemic has taken root and grown in the United States, Democrats and Republicans are now poles apart,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion. “The consequences of these differing perspectives are shaping how people are responding to calls for action.”

Overall, fewer than half of U.S. adults are changing behaviors such as eating from home more often or canceling plans to avoid crowds, as recommended.

The poll was conducted Friday and Saturday, beginning the same day President Trump declared a national emergency, and before Tuesday’s stricter guidelines from the administration on social distancing.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has cautioned, “The worst is yet ahead for us.”

Views on the threat level

In February, a little more than a quarter of U.S. adults believed the coronavirus was being blown out of proportion. Now, that number has risen to nearly 40% of respondents.

Pollsters found that both shifts are largely driven by changes in opinion by Republicans. For instance, 72% of Republicans saw the coronavirus as a real threat in early February, but that figure has now plummeted to 40% of Republicans now believing the deadly virus is a serious menace.

And a majority of Republicans — 54% — now say the response to the coronavirus is overblown, a significant jump from last month, when about 23% of Republicans held that view.

Fewer independents, too, see the coronavirus as a real threat. Fifty percent of them view it as such now, compared with 64% of independents last month who said the virus was legitimately threatening.

Democrats remained the most unchanged on this question. An increasing number of them — 76% — now say the danger of the coronavirus is real, up from 70% last month.

Changing your behavior? Depends on your party

Some 59% of Democrats report they have made a point to dodge large gatherings, while 60% of Republicans and 54% of independents have not.

The same party division is illustrated in something as routine as choosing to eat at home versus dining out. About 60% of Democrats say they are eating in more often because of the virus, while 63% of Republicans and 60% of independents are not. (A number of states have recently banned eating out, limiting restaurants to takeout to enforce social distancing.)


Fauci successfully walks tightrope with Trump

By Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels
The Hill, March 18, 2020

Dr. Anthony Fauci has become one of the most important public figures in Washington amid a coronavirus pandemic that is quickly changing American life.

Fauci has been at the helm of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for nearly four decades, but the global virus shutting down much of the U.S. economy has thrust him to the forefront of the federal government’s effort to address the crisis.

At briefing after briefing, Fauci takes a factual, no-nonsense approach — one that at times has created a dissonance with President Trump, who in the past has clashed with officials who have publicly contradicted him.

There appears to be little if any friction, however, between Trump and Fauci, who has avoided direct criticism of the president and earned plaudits from members of both parties for conveying a sense of control in a crisis.

He’s seemed to win over Trump, too.

Trump, who views media coverage as a critical barometer, declared that the 79-year-old Fauci had “become a major television star.” Fauci appeared on every major Sunday show over the weekend to discuss the administration’s response efforts.

At a press briefing on Tuesday, Trump looked to be listening intently as Fauci spoke about specific data and efforts to “flatten the curve” and stave off the worst of the pandemic. When Fauci at one point stepped away from the podium, Trump urged him to keep taking questions.

Trump has also adopted a new tone this week in discussing the coronavirus, taking heed of calls from public health experts to recommend that Americans drastically limit their contact with others to prevent the spread of the virus.

People in the health community say Fauci’s role has been important and note that the White House has not pushed back on or silenced the top health official after he has contradicted the president.

“When there are misconceptions or misperceptions … he is right then and there interjecting, which we should all be very thankful for because if it wasn’t him, we don’t know who would be that person,” said (Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center). “As much as it matters to hear from government leaders, it’s really the scientists that need to have the voice here.”

Only 37 percent of Americans have a good or great deal of trust in what they’re hearing from Trump on the coronavirus, while 84 percent say they have such trust in what they’re hearing from public health experts, according to an NPR-Marist poll released Tuesday.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

Unfortunately, President Trump did not get off to a sterling start in his response to the coronavirus crisis. He first wanted to minimize it so as to not distract from his campaign for reelection, and then when it appeared to be a more serious problem, he seemed more concerned about its impact on the economy rather than the potentially disastrous consequences that it would have on the health of the people (numbers counted more than people).

What is disconcerting is that the highly polarized political environment in this nation has extended into molding the public and private responses to this pending pandemic of the Covid-19 virus. As the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows, Democrats were more concerned about the health consequences of Covid-19, whereas the Republicans seemed to follow the lead of President Trump, dismissing it as an overblown threat, often to the point of failing to take recommended personal safeguards to prevent infection with this potentially lethal agent.

We’ve said many times that we support optimal health policy but that politics has kept us from implementing those policies. If there ever were a time that we should set politics aside and move on with optimal policy, it certainly should be now. Millions of lives are potentially at stake.

It is reassuring to see that President Trump seems to have had an epiphany and now wants to move forward with aggressive policies to help reduce both the adverse health and economic consequences of this pandemic. In selecting Anthony Fauci to provide unrestrained guidance and direction in our national response, and then calling for implementation of public health measures based on sound policy science, the president has shown that he is now truly concerned.

The question at this point is whether Trump’s base will follow him forward and begin to support the measures that we must take to reduce the intensity of harm caused by the Covid-19 havoc, or will they stand firm in insisting that this threat is overblown and thus they do not need to adhere to the recommended preventive measures. If they do decide to move in the right direction, following President Trump, then it would demonstrate a very important point – that is that politics can be manipulated to enable forward movement with policies designed to benefit the public good. It would also demonstrate the importance of leadership in good governance. Let’s hope.

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About the Commentator, Don McCanne

Don McCanne is a retired family practitioner who dedicated the 2nd phase of his career to speaking and writing extensively on single payer and related issues. He served as Physicians for a National Health Program president in 2002 and 2003, then as Senior Health Policy Fellow. For two decades, Don wrote "Quote of the Day", a daily health policy update which inspired HJM.

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