President Donald Trump minimized concerns about the novel coronavirus at a Sunday press conference, telling Americans to “relax” — and many of his conservative allies are doing the same, giving the public the sort of advice that could endanger lives as the pandemic progresses.
Rep. Devin Nunes, who fiercely defended the president during the impeachment inquiry as the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, appeared on Fox Business’s Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo Sunday, and encouraged people to go out and patronize local businesses, despite that running counter to experts’ advice.
“There’s a lot of concerns with the economy here, because people are scared to go out,” Nunes said. “But I will just say, one of the things you can do, if you’re healthy, you and your family — it’s a great time to just go out: go to a local restaurant, likely you can get in easily. ... Go to your local pub.”
ICYMI @SundayFutures with @MariaBartiromo important Coronavirus info|— Devin Nunes (@DevinNunes) March 15, 2020
-Don’t Panic there’s no food shortage/ stay home if you’re sick/ Elderly folks with health issues are vulnerable/ If healthy, support local workers and economy-shop and eat local! pic.twitter.com/uE6R5naUvH
Nunes’s comments came Sunday morning, hours before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidance that directs Americans to avoid gatherings of 50 people or more — the size a crowd might be at one’s local restaurant or pub.
They also came as one of the Trump administration’s top public health officials — Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — was on television telling the public to do the opposite.
“I would like to see a dramatic diminution of the personal interaction that we see in restaurants and in bars,” Fauci said on CNN’s State of the Union. “Whatever it takes to do that, that’s what I’d like to see.”
And, Sunday, experts increasingly warned that just because one seems “healthy” does not necessarily mean they do not have the virus. As CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen notes, a number of studies published in recent weeks suggest asymptomatic infected people can transmit the virus — and a preliminary study from scientists at the Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases suggests 25-30 percent of all coronavirus transmission may be due to spread from pre-symptomatic people.
Essentially, even if one thinks they are healthy, they should still follow CDC social distancing guidelines in order to protect themselves and others, as it is possible — particularly given testing shortages — that they have the virus and do not know it.
Nunes is not the only conservative figure to give this sort of dangerous advice in recent days. Trump ally and controversial former Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke, for example, tweeted people should “Visit bars, restaurants, shopping malls, CHURCHES and demand that your schools re-open. NOW! If government doesn’t stop this foolishness...STAY IN THE STREETS.”
And Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt — in a now-deleted tweeted — shared a picture of himself dining out with his children and asked his constituents to go out and “#supportlocal.”
Politicians and public figures should help amply coronavirus best practices
In more recent tweets, Stitt has taken a more sober, CDC-approved approach to the virus, directing businesses to apply for “low-interest federal disaster loans” from the Small Business Association rather than requesting that Oklahoma residents help their local businesses weather the pandemic with their patronage, and announcing a state emergency.
It is important that state and federal officials — as well as public figures with large followings like Clarke — take this sort of approach in their messaging about the virus because, as Fauci said Sunday, “things will get worse before they get better.” The United States is approaching 4,000 confirmed coronavirus cases as of March 16. The rate of increase of these confirmed cases, as Vox’s Rani Molla and Dylan Scott have reported, is in line with that of Italy, a country currently struggling to deal with more than 20,000 confirmed cases — a number that has overwhelmed the country’s health system.
Limiting the rate of case increase will be key in ensuring that the US health care system — which is already stressed due to a difficult flu season — has time to prepare for a similar caseload.
While the president and some of his allies have minimized the pandemic, other leaders in Trump’s orbit have done the opposite.
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas criticized a House coronavirus relief bill Monday not because it was put forward by Democrats but because he said “it doesn’t go far enough and it doesn’t go fast enough.” He told Fox News that what the government should do to help struggling small businesses and families is “get cash into the hands of affected workers and families quickly,” an idea my colleague Dylan Matthews has also promoted.
Other conservative lawmakers have publicized their efforts to follow CDC guidance — Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was at risk for exposure to the virus, quarantined himself as a precaution. During that quarantine, he praised the nonpartisan public health officials crafting that guidance, and after testing negative for the virus Sunday, said he “like everyone else will follow the best practices to stay negative.”
It is this sort of messaging that is needed to slow the progression of the pandemic and to limit its economic effects. Calls to visit bars and to congregate will only make things worse.