ColumnistsD Kevin McNeirEditor's ColumnOpinion

EDITOR’S COLUMN: Trump Says We Have Nothing to Fear from Coronavirus — But Blacks Remember ‘Tuskegee’

Federal health officials have taken off the kid gloves when speaking about the coronavirus which has already claimed more than 2,700 lives globally while leaving over 80,000 people in at least 33 countries sickened and suffering from a variety of respiratory illnesses.

The virus, which scientists say can be contracted or transmitted by and to humans and animals alike, presumably through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces, has moved far beyond its ground zero point of origin, Wuhan, China, with confirmed cases in countries whose leaders just weeks ago believed they had little fear. But with new outbreaks in Asia, Europe and the Middle East in countries that include Italy, Iran and South Korea, there’s renewed concern that we’re in the early stages of a global pandemic. Scientists estimate that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.

As American financial markets decline to their lowest point since February 2018 and with growing uncertainty about how long the virus will remain a threat or how severe interruptions in normal business operations will become as more plants close, citizens are forced to remain in their homes and travel from country to country is suspended indefinitely, a new reality has emerged.

Federal health officials now conclude that the virus will almost certainly spread in the U.S. and advise hospitals, businesses and schools to begin to prepare for the inevitable immediately. In other words, the question is not “if” this will happen but instead exactly “when,” based on comments shared by Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in a news briefing earlier this week.

She says the Americans should get ready and prepared “in the expectation that this could be bad.”

Children may relish in the fact that “social distancing measures” could lead to eventual school closures. Workers may similarly celebrate the predicted canceling of those annoying meetings and conferences with directives from their employers to stay in and work from home.
For now, we just do not know what the future holds.

That’s why President Trump confounds me yet again. On Tuesday, the U.S. reported 57 cases — 40 connected to the Diamond Princess cruise ship where passengers were stricken with the virus after it docked in Japan. Yes, they’ve been isolated and there appear to be no signs of sustained transmission in American communities — for now. But it’s irresponsible for the president to refute his own health officials, downplaying the threat and telling U.S. citizens that the virus “is very well under control in our country.”

I’m not sure that I’m so worried that I’m going to begin wearing a mask whenever I leave my home, or cancel plans for trips within the U.S., but given the frequency with which Trump has twisted the truth or caused anyone with a semblance of common sense to doubt the veracity of his assertions, I am unable to put my faith in his Tweets aimed as allaying our fears.

Perhaps the Republicans who number among his base may be willing to follow the Pied Piper of Pennsylvania Avenue into the unknown but Blacks would do well to remember that the government has smiled in our faces but spoken with forked tongues — much to our detriment.

This time, we have no need to look to conspiracy theories to support our concerns. All we need to do is remember the Tuskegee experiments which began in 1932. Then, when no known treatment existed for syphilis, 600 men were initially enrolled in the project, told they would receive free medical care — with one group with latent syphilis given placebos even after penicillin became a recommended treatment in 1947.

Researchers, bent on tracing the disease’s full progression, provided no effective care as the men died. Those associated with the study withheld the truth for decades until the experiment was forced to shut down in 1972. By then, death from the disease or related complications also leading to death had totaled some 128 men, with over 40 spouses also becoming infected, passing it to 19 children at birth.

Of course, the coronavirus is a case far different in scope from the Tuskegee Experiment in which the disease could have been treated, halted and eventually eradicated.

But should we be so eager to trust those who have violated us with such ease, allowing needless suffering and death to claim the lives of Black men, women and children? Whose warning should we head — federal health officials who the man who has promised to “make America great again?”

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Award-winning journalist and 21-year Black Press veteran, book editor, voice-over specialist and college instructor (Philosophy, Religion, Journalism). Before joining us, he led the Miami Times to recognition as NNPA Publication of the Year.

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