Experts assembled, now follow their advice

What scientists don’t know about coronavirus is the frightening aspect. Scientists know it is spread as easily as the common cold and seasonal flu, in a relative short time spreading globally from China to all the populated continents. They can’t predict, however, how extensive will be the outbreak. Coronavirus could peter out with the arrival of warm weather, as does the typical flu, or it may not.

It appears to have a higher mortality rate than the flu, which killed an estimated 80,000 Americans last winter, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. How much higher is still unclear. If it is several times more lethal, the implications are dire.

What the public should not do is panic. What government must do is prepare for the worst, while hoping for the best.

In that regard, news out of Washington, D.C., and Hartford on Wednesday provided some reassurance.

President Trump took an important step in naming a point person — Vice President Mike Pence — to coordinate the government’s response. Monitoring the outbreak, organizing the work of the multiple agencies being called upon to deal with it and coordinating with the 50 states will prove to be a major challenge. The president’s announcement that a special coronavirus task force has been and will continue to meet regularly provides the appearance, at least, that the health threat is getting the attention it deserves.

What the president must now do is let the experts do their jobs. Trump has a propensity to create his own reality. The economy cannot simply be doing well, it must be the strongest ever, when it’s not. The failure of his talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to reverse that nation’s nuclear arms buildup cannot be acknowledged. When Trump misstates that a state is under a hurricane threat, a Sharpie pen is employed to match a map with his statement, not with the official forecast.

Trump cannot play fast and loose with facts in a matter such as this. If this situation gets substantially worse — and let us all pray it doesn’t — and Trump tries to downplay that reality for fear the truth will reflect badly on his administration’s response, it could dissolve public trust and create the very panic the coordinated response is intended to prevent.

Concerningly, the president’s tendency to spin information was in evidence at his Wednesday news conference.

“We have it so well under control. I mean, we really have done a very good job," Trump said. And at another point, "Because of all we've done, the risk to the American people remains very low."

A vaccine, he said, “We can develop fairly rapidly.”

But the experts that the president brought along, provided more sobering assessments.

“The trajectory of what we are looking at over the weeks and months ahead is very uncertain,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, deputy director of the CDC.

And Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said developing, testing and making available a vaccine will take "at least a year to a year and a half at best."

Listen to the experts, Mr. President.

Meanwhile, in Hartford, Gov. Ned Lamont talked about the state’s readiness. He brought along hospital officials who reminded the public they regularly train to handle disease outbreaks and coordination with state health officials.

No cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Connecticut, but Lamont said he would be ready to act if emergency measures prove necessary to contain an outbreak.

The Connecticut Emergency Management Association warned the governor that more personal protection equipment is needed for health care providers, which Lamont acknowledged as a challenge with all states scrambling for such supplies.

Best case scenario is that this turns out to be another health scare that arises, is managed, and recedes. But when it comes to preparation, underreaction is far more dangerous than overreaction.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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