EDITORIAL: Pandemic can't be ignored away
Three months into a pandemic that has claimed going on 120,000 lives in the United States and left some 20 million Americans newly unemployed, too many elected officials — from President Donald Trump to state lawmakers in Pennsylvania — continue to ignore the very real public-health threat.
Memo to President Trump: Ignoring the coronavirus isn’t going to make it go away.
Memo to Lebanon County’s state lawmakers: Politicizing the coronavirus isn’t going to make your constituents any safer.
Let’s start with Trump: Despite the advice of federal health experts and counter to the wishes of Oklahoma medical professionals, Trump went ahead with a campaign rally in Tulsa on Saturday. The event failed to lure the overflow crowd Trump’s oversized ego demands, but thousands did attend, most without wearing masks or practicing social distancing.
This represented a substantial public-health danger, and the campaign can’t claim otherwise. After all, it required anyone attending the event to sign a waiver stating, “you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.” And in case that didn’t drive home the point: Six Trump campaign workers in Tulsa tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of Saturday’s rally.
Evidently, none of this matters to a president who long ago forfeited any responsibility for overseeing a coordinated federal response to the ongoing pandemic. His coronavirus response team has been MIA for weeks; he and his administration largely refuse to follow their own government’s guidelines on masks and social distancing; he suggested at Saturday’s rally that health officials should “slow the testing down” so there would be fewer reported cases; he even went so far as to proclaim the wearing of masks as a political statement against him.
This is not just irresponsible, it is willful idiocy. And it’s being echoed locally.
After refusing to follow state guidelines and rushing to reopen early, Lebanon County is now seeing a rise in coronavirus cases. As a result, it is the only county that Gov. Tom Wolf has not yet approved for moving into the green phase of the state’s reopening process.
Being stalled in the yellow phase has the county’s state representatives seeing red. They blame not their own stubbornness and not the virus itself (which, as we have stressed, is not partisan no matter how badly lawmakers, the president or public protesters attempt to couch it as such). No, they blame state leaders.
“If there was ever any doubt that the governor and secretary of health are more motivated by politics than concerns about public health, that doubt has been erased today,” the county’s four state-level representatives whined in a pot-calling-the-kettle-black news release.
After taking issue with state data that doesn’t align with their political wishes, they conclude: “As far as we are concerned the governor has lost all credibility regarding every aspect of his shutdown, and deserves only to be ignored. Lebanon Countians, and Pennsylvanians as a whole, should treat this edict with the same respect that he has treated all of us, absolutely none.”
Their sense of public service is as derelict as their grammar.
An understandable desire to revive an economy now in recession won’t prevent spread of the coronavirus. Neither will ignoring it, politicizing it or dismissing common-sense guidance aimed at countering it.
For the last time, politicians who cavalierly put their constituents at risk by ignoring COVID-19 public health guidelines — from the president to governors of states with rising coronavirus cases like Florida and Texas to the politically blindered representatives of Lebanon County — are the ones who must be ignored.