What’s Left: The Dangers of a Sense of False Comfort

J.J. Citron, Maroon-News Staff

There have been nearly 12,000 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in China as of February 1. The respiratory virus can travel through the air, yet symptoms take between two and 14 days to appear, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus’s epicenter is located in Wuhan, China. It has proven difficult to contain the virus, given that Wuhan is a transportation hub; according to The New York Times, over 3,500 flights take place every day from Wuhan to cities and countries all over the world. 

On January 30, the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus a global emergency, thereby demonstrating that the virus is a risk outside of Chinese borders. Such states of emergency are “merely guidance,” according to Dr. David L. Heymann, a former W.H.O. assistant director-general. In other words, there is no legal imposition behind the declaration, but rather governments and private companies “may or may not follow it,” said Dr. Heymann. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six Americans have tested positive for the Coronavirus. On January 31, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar stated that President Donald Trump signed an order for the U.S. to deny entry to any foreign nationals who have traveled in China within the past two weeks. Further, Azar stated that any U.S. citizens who have traveled to China’s Hubei province within the last 14 days “will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine to ensure they’re provided proper medical care and health screening.” The United States government has not implemented federal-level quarantine measures in over 50 years. Such measures represent an attempt to “detect and contain” the virus “proactively and aggressively,” said Azar. 

On January 29, the Trump administration announced a Coronavirus Task Force, which aims to “monitor, contain, and mitigate the spread of the virus, while ensuring that the American people have the most accurate and up-to-date health and travel information.” The Coronavirus Task Force is comprised of members of the Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, Department of Homeland Security and several other government agencies. The task force represents a critical convergence of government agencies. 

Despite this, I fear President Trump’s ability to sway public perception regarding the Coronavirus with a single tweet. In 2014 amidst the Ebola outbreak, Trump tweeted: “STOP THE FLIGHTS!” and “NO VISAS FROM EBOLA STRICKEN COUNTRIES.” On January 31, Joe Biden stated, “We have, right now, a crisis with the Coronavirus. This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia – hysterical xenophobia – and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science.” 

Unlike 2014, President Trump’s Twitter presence regarding the Coronavirus has been comparatively calm. On January 30, President Trump tweeted the following: “Working closely with China and others on Coronavirus outbreak. Only 5 people in U.S., all in good recovery.” However, at the time of the tweet, a sixth case of the virus had been confirmed and public health experts had not confirmed that those infected were all recovered. 

Tara C. Smith, an epidemiologist at Kent State University who studies infections transferred between animals and humans, expressed concern when elected officials made statements that contradict public institutions, as “it undermines trust not only during these kinds of crisis situations where there is a potential epidemic looming, but also in the day to day.” 

President Trump has used social media to both instill fear and false comfort. Will he ever learn how to properly use online platforms? Or is it impossible to be the Robin Hood of Twitter?