Editorial: Trump Allies Have Their Own “Science”

Donald Trump and his allies seem to know a lot about COVID-19— even more than the leading infectious disease, epidemiology, and public health experts. They purport to know so much that they can’t accept the input of an expert if it contradicts their own worldview.

During a Senate committee hearing about reopening the U.S. economy during the coronavirus pandemic, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) even reminded Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, that he wasn’t the “end all” when it came to making decisions about public health. To be fair, Paul is himself a physician, though an ophthalmologist, not an expert in infectious disease, epidemiology, or public health.

Trump’s allies are fond of comparing COVID-19 with the seasonal flu, though evidence says otherwise. Since we first learned about COVID-19, Trump and many others have focused on early speculation that COVID-19 was just a bad flu. They continue to point to “statistics” showing that influenza causes tens of thousands of deaths every year in the U.S. In short, we should see it as just another virus— sure, they say, people die from it, but tens of thousands of people die each year from the flu.

A new paper authored by researchers from Harvard Medical School and Emory University, however, says that comparing the number of flu deaths with the number of COVID-19 deaths is like “comparing apples to oranges.” In comparing the actual number of flu deaths per week with the actual number of COVID-19 deaths per week, the authors found that the peak COVID-19 weekly death count is about 20 times higher than the average weekly peak flu death count..

Some of Trump’s allies seem confident that once you have coronavirus, you are immune, despite the fact that science does not yet have clear evidence regarding immunity. During the Senate hearings on Tuesday, May 13, Senator Rand Paul, who has had COVID-19 himself, stated, without citing any data, that he was pretty sure that he and others were immune once they had recovered from COVID-19. So, he posited, there was no reason why people like him (those who have had COVID-19) shouldn’t be able to go back to work, populate beaches, and go back to more normal interactions.

Though experts say it’s likely that there is at least some degree of immunity for people who have had the virus, there is no definitive evidence as to the degree of immunity. Making the assumption that once you’ve had COVID-19, you’ll never get it again may prove deadly, especially as the country relaxes its social distancing rules.

Chen Dong, a researcher who led a COVID-19 immunity study at the Institute for Immunology and the School of Medicine at Tsinghua University in Beijing, says, “The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) has only been circulating in human hosts for five or six months, which means that there is simply no way to know whether immunity to the disease lasts longer than that. How long immunity lasts is a big question…

People who assume they are now immune should take note: Chen also said, “Per our findings, we can only confirm that COVID-19 patients can maintain the adaptive immunity to SARS-CoV-2 for 2 weeks post-discharge.”

Trump’s allies continue to insist that if they don’t have an underlying condition, they don’t need to worry…ignoring the proliferation of hospitalizations of people who aren’t “high risk.” At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the common wisdom was that it was mainly the older population, people with underlying conditions such as heart disease, and immunocompromised people who had to worry about complications. Most others, we were told, would have mild or no symptoms if they contracted the virus.

We know now that anyone can suffer a severe case and/or complications of COVID-19. Take Dr. Joseph Fair, a physician and coronavirus expert who contributes to NBC News and TODAY. Fair, age 42 runs 5-10 miles a day, is clearly in good shape, and has no underlying conditions. Yet he was hospitalized with COVID-19.

“If it can take me down,” said Fair, “it can take anyone down.”

We’re discovering that COVID-19 can even take down our kids, who we’ve thought all along were virtually safe from any complications. An increasing number of children who have had a bout with COVID-19 are developing a serious and potentially deadly post-viral syndrome called multi system inflammatory syndrome. Though experts say the syndrome is not directly caused by the virus, it appears to be a result of the children’s immune response to the virus. Now that we know this, it will be interesting to see whether some of Trump’s allies who are in a rush to open schools will change their minds.

Trump and some of his allies continue to promote the drug Hydroxychloroquine as a “game changing” treatment, even though, after evidence showing cardiac risks prompted the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has now recommended against it use for treating treat COVID-19.

Incorrectly citing herd immunity, they also insist that we don’t need to be so cautious about opening back up—in fact, we may be even better off doing so.

Various Trump allies, including Rush Limbaugh, have promoted the idea of herd immunity as justification for ending measures such as lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus.

Researchers David Dowdy and Gypsyamber D’Souza, of of the Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, write,We have listened with concern to voices erroneously suggesting that herd immunity may ‘soon slow the spread’ of COVID-19. For example, Rush Limbaugh recently claimed that ‘herd immunity has occurred in California.’ As infectious disease epidemiologists, we wish to state clearly that herd immunity against COVID-19 will not be achieved at a population level in 2020, barring a public health catastrophe.

“Some have entertained the idea of ‘controlled voluntary infection,’ akin to the ‘chickenpox parties’ of the 1980s. However, COVID-19 is 100 times more lethal than the chickenpox. Someone who goes to a ‘coronavirus party’ to get infected would not only be substantially increasing their own chance of dying in the next month, they would also be putting their families and friends at risk.”

COVID-19 is currently killing 2,000 Americans per day. Trump and his allies pick and choose “facts,” even disproven ones, about the virus to conveniently support their worldview, frequently contradicting the data and recommendations of public health and infectious disease experts. Though Trump, his base, and many of his allies have disdain for science, they create their own “science” to support their desire to end lockdowns and protect their financial interests.

POWERFUL CONFRONTATION: Rand Paul and Anthony Fauci’s contentious Coronavirus exchange | The Hill [2020-05-12]

Fauci Clashes In Tense Moment At Senate Hearing | NBC Nightly News

Editorial: Injecting Disinfectant: Trump’s Comments Need a Warning Label

Donald Trump didn’t “recommend” injecting disinfectant, per se, but he didn’t need to go as far as recommending it. All he had to do was wonder out loud about its possible effectiveness against COVID-19 for some of his supporters to jump on board, and the rest to make excuses for him. Are disinfectants destined to be the new hydroxychloroquine in the eyes of Trump’s base? the rest of us wondered.

Trump had just heard a presentation by undersecretary for science and technology William Bryan, of the Department of Homeland Security. Bryan was discussing a study that found that exposure to the sun and the use of disinfectants such as bleach can weaken or kill the virus. Bryan was referring to the use of disinfectants as cleaning agents on surfaces and as aerosol sprays, not as treatments to be ingested or injected into the body.

During his April 23 coronavirus press briefing, Trump mentioned the possibility of “bringing light inside the body” as a possible way to eliminate the virus from patients. He then embarked on a riff about perhaps injecting disinfectant to treat COVID-19.

“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that, so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me.”

Understandably, many Americans were aghast. Certainly, we’ve developed a degree of numbness to Trump’s absurd statements, to his often ignorant pronouncements, and his presumption to know more than the experts on…well, just about any topic. But Trump’s conjecture about the possibility of using cleaning agents internally to fight COVID-19 likely shocked even many six-year-olds who were taught by their parents that you mustn’t ever, ever, ever drink such things.

With each of Donald Trump’s increasingly preposterous and unhinged statements or actions, many Americans have said, time after time, “This one is it. Surely, this time is the last straw. No one can possibly believe/support/excuse this.” This was another one of those times.

And yet, as the story spread through the news outlets, Donald Trump’s supporters rushed to clarify, defend, or deny Trump’s words.

Those of Trump’s base who didn’t interpret Trump’s words as a recommendation rallied around him to defend what he said as “not what he said.”

Many of Trump’s defenders immediately took to social media, spending the weekend posting articles and comments “pointing out” that those who vaccinate “already inject disinfectants,” and touting all manner of related unproven and fringe treatments. As if this somehow meant that it might actually be ok to try injecting a home cleaning agent. As if this somehow made it ok for Trump to plant the idea into the malleable heads of some of his followers.

Trump apologists such as Breitbart and Fox, followed by all who only get their news from those sources, attempted to “clarify” Trump’s remarks, yet did nothing to effectively explain what he might have meant.

Joel B. Pollak of Breitbart wrote, “Trump used the word ‘inject,’ but what he meant was using a process — which he left ‘medical doctors’ to define — in which patients’ lungs might be cleared of the virus, given new knowledge about its response to light and other factors.”

Fox News’ Laura Ingraham blamed the media for misrepresenting what Trump had said. Notably, Ingraham did not replay what Trump actually said so that her audience could hear for themselves. Instead, she played clips of the shocked responses by CNN and MSNBC journalists.

“So was he telling Americans to drink Clorox? Really?” Ingraham sneered.

“Absolutely not,” responded Fox contributor Sara Carter. “These are journalists that don’t let the facts stand in the way of their lies. They hate Donald Trump, the president, so much that they will twist his words whenever they can at the expense of the American people.”

What of the Trump devotees who did listen to Trump, and who interpreted his words as a possible recommendation? And what of the manufacturers of Lysol and other disinfectants who were so alarmed by Trump’s comments that they immediately issued warnings against taking their products internally?

As for Donald Trump, himself, he claimed a day later that clearly he was being sarcastic.

“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you, just to see what would happen,” he said to reporters on Friday.

Breitbart’s Pollak, who had earlier attempted to “clarify” what Trump meant, subsequently changed his position, siding with Trump that Trump was just being sarcastic.

The idea that everyone should have understood Trump’s speculation to be mere sarcasm, if it was, ignores the fact that New York City poison control centers reported an increase in calls in the 18 hours following Trump’s speculation about injecting disinfectants to treat coronavirus.

The most shocking and irresponsible defense of Trump came from infectious disease specialist Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House pandemic response coordinator. When asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper for her opinion about Trump’s remarks, she didn’t give a medical opinion, but instead defended Trump’s words as a harmless “dialogue” with health professionals, saying he was just “wondering out loud” about the possibility of using disinfectants internally.

Americans knew that they could count on Trump’s base and his loyal news outlets to defend, explain, and justify his every word and action. But when one of the medical experts we count on to keep us safe declines to acknowledge the recklessness of Trump’s words, and instead, as Birx did, blames the furor on the media for replaying them, it seems as if we’re running out of options for whom we can look to for our well-being.

If it’s true that Trump was just misunderstood, it’s also true that no leader should ever have casual “dialogue” with medical professionals in front of the public about the possibility of using harmful chemicals internally as a treatment. If the truth is that Trump was just being sarcastic, that, too, was reckless in light of the fact that some might take Trump’s “musing” as a recommendation (and some apparently did). Every possible spin by Trump and his supporters on Trump’s feckless speculation is simply a defense of the indefensible.

“When the person with the most powerful position on the planet is encouraging people to think about disinfectants, whether it was serious or not, people listen,” said Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Americans poison themselves after Trump’s ‘disinfectant injection’ suggestion | City News Toronto [2020-04-26]

Trump: Disinfectant comments were ‘sarcastic’ | Associated Press