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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: How (not) to handle a pandemic

Rajee headshot

Opinion writer Rajee Ganesan poses for a portrait. Photo courtesy of Rajee Ganesan.

Science has always played a role in politics. It drives decision-making around climate change, health care funding and, as of late, how to handle a pandemic. The current administration has repeatedly argued that "nobody" could have predicted the virus, claiming COVID-19 was basically unprecedented — but it simply isn’t true.

Researchers, scientists and students studying infectious diseases have been preparing for something like COVID-19 for years. The threat of a pandemic flu is not anything new; it’s been foreshadowed by Ebola, Zika and the swine flu. It was the reason that a pandemic response group — dissolved in 2018 by President Donald Trump over budget concerns — was created in the first place. 

One of the more difficult aspects of dealing with a pandemic is integrating politics and science in order to prevent further panic. This can be achieved through effective communication between scientific experts and political leaders, and the dissemination of information in a way that is easy to understand and follow.

There are many things that entail effective communication between scientists, politicians and the general public. However, one of the things that it is not is allowing the president to hold a press conference in which he stated the latest recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control was "voluntary. I don’t think I am going to be doing it.”

In addition to publicly stating that the CDC’s guidelines were voluntary, the Trump administration has made a series of blunders, including their endorsements of therapies and medications that have yet to be proven as successful in coronavirus patients. 

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, has publicly criticized the Food and Drug Administration for not moving faster to approve potential trials. After meeting with the founder of a pharmaceutical company, Giuliani also made the public statement that an experimental stem cell therapy trial had “real potential" despite a lack of scientific evidence to prove it.

Hydroxychloroquine, a drug most commonly used to treat malaria and lupus, has also been a topic of interest to the Trump administration. The president himself has claimed there are signs that it works on coronavirus, even though current studies have been contradictory in measuring the success of hydroxychloroquine.

It is imperative that politicians listen and allow scientists to take the driver’s wheel when it comes to discussing potential coronavirus treatments. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has long been known as one of the nation’s top researchers when it comes to diseases like COVID-19. However, Trump has prevented Fauci from answering questions about hydroxychloroquine, and another White House official berated Fauci for calling evidence supporting the drug’s use “anecdotal.” 

This isn’t to say that science should be the base of all our decision-making. If anything, the scientific process is fluid, and new findings are being made every day — with some contradicting the ones of the past. Political leaders should consider the evidence at hand and prioritize the health of the general public in order to make political decisions that will lead us into the post-COVID-19 world.