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Coronavirus: Wash your hands, avoid crowds and shun social media

Guy W. Farmer

Dr. James Wilson, a Reno-based infectious diseases expert, offered some welcome, common sense advice on how to deal with the COVID-19/Coronavirus crisis a few days ago to members of Ty Cobb’s National Security Forum in Reno.

I’d summarize Wilson’s advice this way: (1) wash your hands frequently, (2) avoid crowds and (3) swear off social media, which are full of lies and misinformation, causing widespread panic.

That’s an oversimplification of Wilson’s wise advice, but those are key points of his presentation. Wilson, a pediatrician, is the founder and CEO of Medical Intelligence, Inc., of Reno, which creates systems to anticipate, detect and warn of infectious disease outbreaks around the world.

“The steady march of news stories (about Coronavirus) – some balanced, some sensational and some blatant lies – has made this outbreak a challenge to health intelligence professionals worldwide,” Wilson told his Reno audience. He blamed self-serving politicians and social media for much of the “fake news” we’re seeing and reading about the new, rapidly-spreading virus, which has closed businesses and schools in Northern Nevada, and around the country.

“People are sharing rumors, fake stories and half-truths about COVID-19 with each other, ” added the credible Politico website, while responsible social media companies “are pulling out all stops to combat the wave of false reports , hacking attempts and outright lies.”

As usual, President Trump was out front in the wave of fake news and misinformation. At first he tried to downplay the seriousness of the Coronavirus outbreak, claiming that it would “blow over” in a few weeks. When that didn’t happen he delivered an error-filled Oval Office address to the nation that fell as flat as the voice he delivered it in while reading someone else’s words. He sounded as if he was reading from the phone book. When that didn’t work the president formed a Coronavirus Task Force headed by Vice President Mike Pence, who brought some semblance of order to the proceedings.

Nevertheless, our brash, egotistical president makes sure he’s front and center at every Task Force briefing. It’s instructive to watch Dr. Anthony Fauci, the highly respected director of the National Centers for Disease Control every time Trump steps to the microphone to contradict his own experts. Fauci looks as if he’d rather be enduring a colonoscopy or a root canal. Perhaps he’s remembering the day Trump showed up at the CDC wearing his ever-present “MAGA” cap, thereby politicizing a national health crisis.

Writing in The Atlantic, Peter Wehner, who worked for the last three Republican presidents, opined that the COVID-19/Coronavirus crisis will be the end of the Trump presidency. Calling the president “a habitual liar,” Wehner wrote that “he can’t spin or tweet his way out of a pandemic.” Nevertheless, Trump continues to tweet about anything and everything, whether or not he understands the subjects he’s tweeting about. As I’ve written before, I’d be honored to earn a major award by disabling the president’s Twitter account. Trump should shut up and stop tweeting.

Apparently, things are chaotic inside the Trump White House. The Coronavirus Task Force seems to be functioning relatively well, but things aren’t as smooth inside the White House, where people like Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner, Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller are jockeying for position, and no one knows who the Chief of Staff is between outgoing Mick Mulvaney and incoming Rep. Mark Meadows, a Trump loyalist from North Carolina.

Bottom line: Listen to well-informed doctors like Anthony Fauci and James Wilson, and ignore politicians like President Trump, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.