Anybody who is acquainted with me knows that I’m a baseball fan and root for my hometown team, the Nationals. Did I mention they won the World Series? It’s a new season, and opening day is coming up. This year, there’s a possibility that opening day might not happen, because we are dealing with the uncertainty of a possible pandemic caused by the new coronavirus, which is also known as Covid-19. That’s because it was identified as a new disease at the very end of 2019.
Since then, the illness has swept from China to much of the world. Obviously we’d survive the cancellation of a ballgame, and that worst-case scenario is a real possibility. Already, soccer games have been played before empty stands in countries that are already dealing with this apparently highly contagious bug, too new to have a protocol in place for how to avoid or treat it.
It has begun spreading to the United States, even though we’re separated from the dangerous areas by two oceans. The U.S. cases have been relatively few in number, but now we’re seeing them pop up spontaneously – that is to say, with no explanation, like no apparent exposure to someone overseas.
At first, the politicians were leaving it to the government’s public health officials to cope. However, these experts are contaminated with the truth bug. President Donald Trump is a truthaphobe. He went bananas when a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official gave briefings in which her assessment was that the coronavirus disease “may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe.” The stock market tanked after that quote got out, the most precipitous slide since 2008, and Trump decided he needed to take over the response.
He got off to a bad start at a political rally, during which he claimed it was all a hoax:
“The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” Trump bellowed. “They tried the impeachment hoax. This is their new hoax.”
Everything unfavorable to Donald Trump is a hoax. And when that doesn’t work, he and his surrogates blame the media. This time, he sent out his acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. One of his jobs is to say really stupid stuff:
“The press was covering their hoax of the day because they thought it would bring down the president.”
So the president decided he needed to show that he’s a take charge kinda guy, announcing that Vice President Mike Pence would be running the show. With overwhelmed officials putting out wildly mixed messages, Pence’s first decision was to coordinate official comments, which is really the limit of his expertise (other than kissing up to the boss).
Administration critics immediately screamed about a cover-up. Not so, said Anthony Fauci, who as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has been the face of public health crises like this for 35 years. I’ve known and trusted Tony for many of those years, so when he tells me, “I have never been given orders to get approval from the VP’s people to speak publicly about coronavirus,” I believe him.
He did not respond to my questions about opening day, or even the Olympics. Because the truth is, no one really knows how extensive the coronavirus impact will be. Or how to deal with it.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN. (c) 2020 Bob Franken. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.