True confession time: I no longer watch any broadcast television newscasts because every time I see Donald Trump on my TV screen, my blood pressure goes up and I have to physically restrain myself from throwing a slipper (or something heavier) at my TV set.
In my opinion, he is most definitely not the kind of President that Americans need in a time of crisis. All of his tactics for dealing with bad news/”fake news” definitely won’t help him in a potential SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.
Today, the Washington Post newspaper (original version, archived copy) published an interview with John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, which is a history of the 1918/1919 Spanish flu pandemic I have read and can recommend highly:
Now, as fears about the coronavirus spread, at least one historian is worried the Trump administration is failing to heed the lesson of one of the world’s worst pandemics: Don’t hide the truth.
“They [the Trump administration] are clearly trying to put the best possible gloss on things, and are trying to control information,” said John M. Barry, author of “The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History,” in a phone interview with The Washington Post.
When the second wave of Spanish flu hit globally, “there was outright censorship” in Europe, Barry said. “In the United States, they didn’t quite do that, but there was intense pressure not to say anything negative.”
For the most part, the media followed the government’s lead and self-censored dire news. That made everything worse, Barry said.For example, in Philadelphia, local officials were planning the largest parade in the city’s history. Just before the scheduled event, about 300 returning soldiers started spreading the virus in the city.
“And basically every doctor, they were telling reporters the parade shouldn’t happen. The reporters were writing the stories; editors were killing them,” he said. “The Philadelphia papers wouldn’t print anything about it.
”The parade was held and, 48 hours later, Spanish flu slammed the city. Even once schools were closed and public gatherings were banned, city officials claimed it wasn’t a public health measure and there was no cause for alarm, Barry said.
Philadelphia became one of the hardest hit areas of the country. The dead lay in their beds and on the streets for days; eventually, they were buried in mass graves. More than 12,500 residents died, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Now, it is not just the Donald Trump administration in the U.S. who is muzzling public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been forbidden to speak freely to the public since Wednesday’s press conference. For example, there have been numerous news media reports that the Iranian authorities have also clamped down on any news of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak that would make their government look bad. Some news reports have criticized China for the same reason.
Right now, people around the globe are relying on their governments and their news media to inform and guide them during a potential pandemic. It’s essential to be clear, honest, and up-front about risk communication to the general public. If governments are less than honest with the truth, history shows us that it will likely backfire, and lead to less prepared citizens, who may make ultimately fatal decisions for themselves and their families.
A virus doesn’t pay attention to a President’s tweets and speeches.
Good Sources of Information on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19
Here is my newly-updated list of good, credible, authoritative resources to learn more about the Wuhan coronoavirus (formerly called 2019-nCoV and now officially called SARS-CoV-2; the disease the virus causes is now called COVID-19):
- the United Nations World Health Organization
- the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Health Canada, including an FAQ and a fact sheet
- Public Health Canada
- Information for the Public from the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England (U.K.)
- the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
- Public Health Ontario (Canada)
- Coronavirus Information for the Public (British Columbia Centre for Disease Control; see also this series of tweets)
- University of Chicago Medicine
- Coronavirus FAQ’s by Dr. Megan Murray (Harvard Infectious Disease specialist)
- 2019-2020 Wuhan coronavirus outbreak (Wikipedia)
- Dr. Roger Seheult is posting short videos to his YouTube channel, explaining the medical concepts behind the Wuhan coronavirus in an easy-to-understand way
- Another instructive YouTuber to watch is Dr. John Campbell, a British nurse educator who very clearly explains what you need to know
- If you prefer to get your informtion via audio, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) has started a weekly half-hour podcast on SoundCloud, called COVID-19: What’s Happening Now.
- A brand-new, excellent podcast to follow is EPIDEMIC, with co-hosts Dr. Celine Gounder and Ronald Klain (the former United States Ebola response coordinator under President Barack Obama)
- If you want a credible list of people to follow on Twitter, epidemiologist Dr. Ellie Murray has compiled a curated list of coronavirus experts that you can subscribe to.
- Watch the following video from the World Health Organization:
If you need lists of how to prepare and what to buy in order to get your household ready for a potential pandemic, here are five suggestions:
- Personal Health Preparedness information from the U.S. CDC
- Pandemic information from Ready.gov (U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
- One-page layperson’s guide to the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) by ThePrepared.com website
- So you think you’re about to be in a pandemic? by Dr. Ian M. Mackay of the Virology Down Under blog
- Basic Preps List for One – 30 Days: a discussion thread with links to many useful shopping lists, from the FluTrackers.com forum
If you want a quick, up-to-date overview of the current situation, here are three good places to check:
- 2019-nCoV Global Cases (by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University); other good statistics dashboards can be found here and here.
- Tracking coronavirus: Map, Data and Timeline by BNO News
- the Wikipedia article on the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak is constantly updated by an army of volunteer editors, and provides a good overall summary of the situation
Stay informed, get prepared, and stay healthy!