The advent of the novel coronavirus in the United States is putting our society to an unprecedented test.
As if three years of political warfare and an exhausting presidential primary weren’t enough, Americans now face a pandemic health threat that is serious but unknowable, topped off with a deep shock to the economy.
It will reveal a lot about our character — national and individual — and so far the results are decidedly mixed.
Americans’ first instincts as cases of COVID-19 moved beyond China into Europe seemed to be to make it another barometer of one’s position on President Donald Trump: If you’re a detractor, Trump’s response to this serious matter is a national disgrace, sure to tank the economy.
If you’re a supporter, the new virus is just another flu, and Democrats are cynically exploiting it to make Trump look bad.
It would be far better if Americans would take off the political filter here and recognize that no one actually knows how many people are going to get sick and possibly die; that we all should listen and learn from doctors and public-health professionals, rather than Twitter and talk show hosts.
To be sure, the Trump administration’s response has been erratic. It’s not just a matter of whether travel restrictions were enacted soon enough or broadly enough — experts can disagree on that. It’s the steady stream of misinformation from the president and his political appointees that reminds us just how irresponsible this administration can be. ...
Closer to home, Gov. Mike DeWine inspires confidence with regular science-based updates and clear direction on measures to try to keep us safe.
Cancellation of schools, bans on large public gatherings and news of celebrities testing positive for the virus this past week made the seriousness of the situation much more real. ...
Calling the administration on this malfeasance is legitimate, but a chorus of criticism and blame isn’t helpful.
Fortunately, some Republicans in Congress are showing a willingness to work with Democrats on strategies for limiting the damage, both to public health and to the economy. To torpedo that opportunity by inflaming partisan conflict would be another form of irresponsibility.
The Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate already agreed to an $8 billion emergency spending package to address the spreading virus. One of its best elements may be $300 million set aside to ensure that when a vaccine becomes available all Americans will be able to receive it, whether or not they can pay.
As Americans frantically buy stores out of hand sanitizer in an effort to ward off a potentially deadly virus, it’s hard to imagine a better argument for at least some form of national health care. In light of this experience, the wisdom of making vaccines and infectious disease care available to all who might need it seems obvious.
Trump, ever focused on the stock market, has proposed drastic and expensive stimulus measures such as eliminating federal payroll taxes — which fund Medicare and Social Security — through the end of this year, costing the treasury close to $1 trillion.
He also is interested in “emergency aid” to oil and gas companies hurt by the slump in travel and the drop in oil prices. We hope Congress will consider the hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue and the record profit growth enjoyed by the oil and gas industry in 2019 and make that the nonstarter it should be.
Much more hopeful is a report that Trump is willing to consider reimbursing employers or workers for sick leave made necessary by the virus. Sick leave is another policy priority that should be obvious now.
People who don’t have paid sick leave and can’t afford to go without pay are much less likely to stay home when they might be sick. And the people most likely to have no health insurance or paid sick leave are those in low-paid service jobs — cooking and serving food, running cash registers — most likely to have broad contact with the public.
More than anything, the stock market — and Americans’ nerves — would be calmed by evidence that our government understands the coronavirus challenge, is taking it seriously and is capable of responding to it effectively. One of the Dow’s up days came on Tuesday, regaining close to 5%, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to negotiate possible policies.
Ordinary Americans can do our part by focusing on how to neither give nor receive COVID-19. From Trump and Congress on down, if we can all give partisanship a rest, everyone will be better off.