Reflecting on the Coronavirus, Trump Says ‘Fear Not’ – But Blacks Remember ‘Tuskegee’

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Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay 
By D. Kevin McNeir
Executive Editor/Columnist

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 presumably through sneezes, coughs and contact with contaminated surfaces, has moved far beyond ground zero – Wuhan, China – with cases confirmed and escalating in countries where leaders just weeks ago believed they had little to fear.

However, given recent outbreaks reported in countries including Italy, Iran and South Korea, there’s renewed concern that we’re in the early stages of a global pandemic. As for those who focus more on their portfolios than their health, they’ve witnessed stock markets plummeting including here in the U.S. where record lows not seen since 2008 have been recorded.

Uncertainty related to how long the virus will remain a threat or how severe interruptions in normal business operations may become given the surge of plant closings, workers directed to perform their duties not in the office but at home and airlines indefinitely suspending service to countries or cities deemed “danger zones,” a new reality has emerged.

Federal health officials conclude that the virus will almost certainly spread to and across the U.S., advising hospitals, businesses and schools to immediately begin preparing for the inevitable. Thus, the question is not “if” this will happen but instead exactly “when,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a quickly-convened press conference earlier this week. She says Americans should get ready and prepared “in the expectation that this could be bad.”

I’m not ready to run out into the streets proclaiming, “the sky is falling.” But I’m troubled by President Trump’s rhetoric and insistence upon painting a rosy picture when the facts and summations shared by those far more knowledgeable say otherwise. We may have continued to be led by our noses indefinitely had it not been for breaking news released on Wednesday. A U.S. citizen in Northern California tested positive for the virus – the first case in the U.S. that has no known link to foreign travel or contact with someone already infected.

Trump responded by appointing Vice-President Pence to oversee the White House’s efforts to quell our fears and derail the spread of the virus onto America’s shores. Nonetheless, even as he shared the news, the president held fast to his upbeat prognostications. It seems that no matter what others say, even those who we presume know a lot more than the president, in the current Administration the beat goes on. 

I’m not sure that I’ve become so fearful that I’m going to begin wearing a mask whenever I leave my home, cancel any plans for travels in or outside of the U.S. or prepare a new way of life as a newly, self-imposed hermit. But such notions, I must admit, have begun to pervade my thoughts. 

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 while similarly speaking with forked tongues – much to our detriment.

And there’s no need for us to look to conspiracy theories in support of our concerns. We can simply look to the past, recalling the federally-funded Tuskegee experiments which began in 1932 at a time when no known treatment for syphilis existed. Six hundred Black men would be used as human guinea pigs – encouraged to enroll in the project and told they’d receive free medical care – with one group suffering from 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 or the man who has promised to “make America great again?”

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