America’s Response to Coronavirus Pandemic is ‘Incomprehensibly Incoherent,’ Says Historian Who Studied the 1918 FluHistorians in the News
tags: public health, medical history, influenza, COVID-19
John M. Barry, 73, is a historian and author of several books, including "The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History," about the 1918 flu pandemic. He lives in New Orleans.
As you’ve watched the coronavirus pandemic unfold, what’s been going through your mind?
Well, I mean, it’s predictable. In the middle of January you could see pretty much what was going to happen. Anybody who understood anything about virology and pandemics, you know, it was obvious. You did not need an intelligence briefing to figure it out.
How would you characterize the United States’s response to the pandemic?
In a local paper I gave Trump a 3.5 a couple of days ago, but I was being overly generous.
3.5 out of what?
Ten. The first few months it was hugely disappointing to see him trivialize this outbreak. A few weeks ago he suddenly took it seriously and said we were at war. That was important. Since then, he’s up and down. The positive is, he does seem to take it seriously. He still is telling people to keep apart, and that’s important. But obviously he gives out inaccurate information on a daily basis. I was part of the groups that did preparedness planning for pandemics in the [George W.] Bush administration, and in those groups we discussed the importance of who the spokesperson should be. Because getting compliance from the public obviously is crucial if you’re going to get social distancing and compliance with your recommendations. And we were unanimous that it should not be any politician, not the president, not secretary of HHS, not even CDC. But the reason was that any politician would start out with a significant chunk of the public not trusting him, not believing him.
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