Opinion: Coronavirus, public health aren’t hoaxes

Bradley Mattes, associate nurse leader at Central Maine Medical Center, questions patients at the emergency entrance to the hospital in Lewiston, Maine, Friday, March 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Bradley Mattes, associate nurse leader at Central Maine Medical Center, questions patients at the emergency entrance to the hospital in Lewiston, Maine, Friday, March 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

"Dear Mr. Lee… we are sorry to inform you that we cannot offer you the position after the internship… Thank you for all your hard work…," wrote the letter.

I call the hiring manager. Same response. “Thank you for your time … Please keep in touch”. I am frustrated. So, I text my internship mentor and everything suddenly clicks.

“We had a position ready for you to fill at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) but their budget was slashed due to the new administration …The new administration believes Public Health is a waste of federal dollars” she said. This was in 2017.

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia

Fast forward to Feb. 28th, 2020, President Trump urges his supporters at a South Carolina Rally to treat the pneumonia-causing coronavirus as a hoax. Though two known cases were earlier reported in California and U.S. intelligence officers were expecting more in the coming days.

What is worse is that President Trump was spreading disinformation and covering up the problem that he created a few years ago. In 2018, Trump proposed to slash the CDC's budget by 17% and its global disease prevention efforts by 80% because he believed it was a hoax. The acting CDC director at-the-time tweeted, "Proposed CDC budget: unsafe at any level of enactment. Would increase illness, death, risks to Americans, and health care costs."

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As a public health graduate, I understand Public Health has always been an out-of-sight, out-of-mind profession. When things are well, society forgets about Public Health because everything looks safe and there is no immediate threat. But when an outbreak, such as Ebola or SARS, occurs, society immediately responds by calling for an increase in Public Health spending.

President Trump’s initial steps to secure $8.3 billion in emergency funding for the coronavirus is a great starting point. However, his unwillingness to understand that temporary funding won’t resolve the underlining and reoccurring health issue is like putting a bandage on a bullet wound. Furthermore, his inclination to still mis-spread health information to the public in order to garner votes is absurd. It suggests that Trump doesn’t take Public Health seriously. He believes Public Health is a hoax like the coronavirus, which is a shame; given the golden opportunity right now to lead and unite all Americans against the outbreak.

What if CDC’s 2018 budget remained constant? What if public health professionals were taken seriously in this administration?

Maybe the coronavirus could have been prevented from starting. Maybe the S&P 500 would not have dropped over 10% in a week. Maybe President Trump would not have had to fly to Atlanta this month to meet with the CDC.

Either way, let it be known to all future presidential candidates that Public Health isn’t a hoax. And it isn’t a joke. It is the beacon of truth that we need right now.

Timothy Lee lives in Atlanta and works in the healthcare sector.

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