Saturday, March 14, 2020

When reality collided with spin

March 26; There was a playbook to deal with a pandemic left by the Obama administration and ignored by Trump's.  One more example of Trump's judgment and priority failures.  A poll conducted by the Daily Beast shows most people do not believe Trumps spin

March 19 update:  Once again today, as yesterday, Trump refers to the Coronavirus as the Chinese virus. Hopefully, most Americans are mindful this is his way of saying "not my fault; I didn't cause it". The Chinese government also bears responsibility for attempting to suppress the threat. However, the knowledge that did emerge was in early February and the US was asleep at the wheel until mid-March. 
What will be his fault will be the lies and spins and politically motivated denials that made us as prepared for the virus as Italy. Those who believed every word he uttered was true and the media and social postings who became his megaphone were part of the problem. His turn around once he figured the stock market was crashing regardless of his attempts to deny the threat may have caused the remarkable conversion. For that we can appreciate for once he listened to his experts and applied science.
Per the Washington Post March 21, 

U.S. intelligence reports from January and February warned about a likely pandemic

Officials reported that China appeared to be downplaying the outbreak and said swift action could be needed to contain the coronavirus.
From a recent Pew poll:  "One difference that stands out within party is based on the media diet, particularly on the right. Among 30 news outlets asked about in an earlier survey, Republicans who got political news only from outlets whose audiences lean right politically are more likely than Republicans with other media diets to think the news media have greatly exaggerated the risks associated with the virus and to think COVID-19 was created intentionally in a lab. (Details on the 30 news outlets and the audience compositions can be found here.) Some differences also emerge within Democrats based on media diet. Those who don’t get news from any outlets with left-leaning audiences in some cases stand part from Democrats with other media diets, including thinking the virus was created intentionally by humans."

Below: Published in the Winter Park Times March 20 2020

What happens when reality and political spin collide? Thanks to modern media and the internet, events happen in warp time.  We get whiplash as we are bombarded with conflicting messages and daily changing public policies. So it is with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The results have been both comic and tragic. Many who believed the spinners who first downplayed the danger have failed to take the threat seriously enough to undertake personal precautions, gambling with their health, getting the affliction, and infecting the unaware.  Others, driven by the fear of the unknown and without the availability of widespread testing, lose faith in the credibility and competence of the White House. They panic and hoard toilet paper.
 What a difference a few weeks made. The unknown is fertile ground for spinners and there is plenty of unknown and misinformation to go around.    In our bifurcated media world, those who exclusively listen to Fox and ilk or MSNBC or  CNN and their ilk live on different planets.  Stories they follow and the emphasis they give, opinions that are expressed by their pundits, are very different.  The echo chambers that result, tweets retweeted, postings on social media and talking points voiced by their partisan politicians, are reflected in public polling. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll reported March 15 that 68% of Democrats feared someone in their family would get the virus; only 40% of Republicans believed likewise. 80% of Democrats believed the crisis would get worse;  only 40% of Republicans thought it would.  In retrospect, what was reported by the liberal media for several weeks was a warning of what could happen in the US. A few weeks of denial later, Trump was reading from a teleprompter and declaring a national emergency.
It is not clear whether Trump's media friends had been echoing the President or were writing his talking points for him. In any case, we were getting an earful from the FOX folks that this virus was not a big deal, no worse than any other flu, people die from flu all the time, and the hype of the "liberal media" coverage was a hoax Democrats had cooked it up to hurt Donald Trump in his re-election campaign.  This was in spite of knowing what other countries were going through. This flu 's death rate experienced elsewhere is on the average ten times more than other flu epidemics, ranging as high as 14% for those over 80 years old who get the virus. Unlike other pandemics and epidemics we have experienced recently, there is no vaccine and no effective way to stop it once a person is infected, and no widespread testing yet in the US to know how many are already sick from it.  The Trump administration believed their own spin and at first paid little attention to the preparatory work that was needed.  Trump dithered at first, said the numbers would go to zero, like a miracle it would go away in April, offered a happy talk on tests, made a happy talk on the outbreak, ignored scientists, made this all about himself and his re-election, and then finally declared a national emergency.  In a press conference on March 13, Trump played his "buck does not stop here" card.  He took had no responsibility for disbanding in 2018 the National Security mechanism for coordinating an early response to pandemics like Ebola.  Voters may yet hold him responsible in November. for his misleading the public and his slow start.  The newest forecast from the White House is the "crisis, may last into July or August".

We have heard of historical comparisons to COVID-19 to other mega pandemics.  There are certain advantages of my living so long, but still vivid in my memory bank was the polio epidemic of the late 1940s when I was in elementary school and before Salk and his miracle vaccine freed us from fear. Like the 1940's polio, COVID- 19  has no vaccine and no medicines to stop its progression. We can only treat the symptoms and avoid those who are infected.   We did not call it social distancing then, but we did it.  In sweltering summers of eastern Oklahoma, we were not able to go to swimming pools or to cool off in air-cooled movie theaters.  We could only play with our neighborhood gang.    We did not complain.  We did not try to avoid the rules.  One look at the pictures in Life Magazine of children lying in rows of iron lungs was enough to put the fear of God in us. It worked. Our neighborhood gang escaped the disease.  The irony has not escaped me.  As a child, I was the most vulnerable to polio; as a person well over 60, I am once again the most vulnerable to another deadly epidemic and I am socially distancing myself with a vengeance. videos of Trump's lies, spins and denials leading up to his declaration of a national emergency s-coronavirus/index.html?fbclid=IwAR0K5Jc2H0TCoF7fO_D1eCVgkclugOVrkdn9cl5eonucUl770VxiSoaafo

COVID-19 causes more severe disease than seasonal influenza.
While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity. That means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease.
Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected.
Third, we have vaccines and therapeutics for seasonal flu, but at the moment there is no vaccine and no specific treatment for COVID-19.

From email distribution from the Washington Post. by line Amber Phillips, March 19, 2020, the five m inute fix:
"President Trump says daily that the coronavirus caught him and the world off guard. “It’s something that nobody expected,” he said last weekend.
That’s not true. And reporting on Thursday drove home that the warning signs were there, sometimes right in front of him.
  • The New York Times reported that last year, the Health and Human Services Department performed startling government simulations to show how underprepared the United States was for such a pandemic. Nothing was done in response.
  • As Trump was coming into office, the Times reports, “outgoing Obama administration officials ran an extensive exercise on responding to a pandemic for incoming senior officials of the Trump administration.” A year later, Trump disbanded the government’s pandemic-response team.
  • NPR got an audio recording of the top senator on the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), privately warning businesses in February that the virus, which was already in America, was going to be “aggressive” and “akin to the 1918 pandemic.” At the time, Trump was still comparing it to the flu."

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