Lessons of Coronavirus: The Emperor has no clues

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No virus here, fellas

The COVID-19 coronavirus provides a valuable lens for viewing our healthcare system, society, and politics. Teachable moments like these are a rare occurrence, and I’m cautiously optimistic that people will take a fresh look at how they view the world.

Here are some lessons I see from the emerging crisis:

  1. We are all in this together. The virus affects the whole society. You can’t wall yourself off from it or blame it on “losers.” If we’re going to prevail we’ll all need to pull together, not pit ourselves against one another or allow our politicians to fan the flames.
  2. Universal coverage is a sensible policy. It seems crazy to people from other countries that Americans would hesitate to get tested for coronavirus because they were worried about how they would pay for the test or treatment.  It is crazy, but true. And never mind the fact that many can’t take sick leave.
  3. Science matters. The Administration has been systematically undermining scientists in and outside of the government. Climate change is a great example –where it’s convenient to believe what suits one’s politics, and the consequences won’t show up for a while. When it comes to corona, the problem is here now –or will be within weeks. Dissing the scientists and experts won’t work well. The public -for the most part– gets it.
  4. Government can help. In 2018, Trump dumped the head of global health security from the National Security Council and disbanded his team, “at a time… the country [was] already underprepared for the increasing risks of pandemic or bioterrorism attack.” CDC funding is being cut dramatically and local and state public health services have been starved for resources for years.
  5. The Emperor has no clues. Trump’s visit to the CDC was an embarrassment, in which he played his usual game of attacking politicians and the press, while showcasing his own narcissism. Maybe those who laughed it off or cheered it on in other circumstances will be more concerned when it has real implications for their health.  In any case, Presidential quotes like the following should be wearing a bit thing: “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for President.”

Next time I’ll write about some of the lessons that we may soon learn, about the virus, about democracy, and about the health of our society.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

March 11, 2020

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