According to POLITICO's Joanne Kenen, when it comes to the coronavirus, President Trump "is using his metaphorical black Sharpie to draw his own mental map" of the growing crisis, and it's making the work of health officials much more difficult.
Kenen cites the example of Trump's questioning of the World Health Organization's estimate that says the global mortality rate for the coronavirus at 3.4 percent. In an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, Trump said he thinks the 3.4 percent figure is a "false number."
"Public health experts have noted the WHO’s estimate may change as more is learned about the spread of the virus; thousands of non-fatal cases likely have gone undetected," Kenen writes. "But while the death rate may dip below 3.4 percent, everything that’s known so far suggests it won’t plummet to a level that’s not alarming. And it’s already hitting some populations, like the elderly, disproportionately hard." (It should be noted that Trump's questioning of the 3.4 rate was simply a reference to an opinion voiced by the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci.)
When it comes to the outbreak's seriousness, White House officials "have been all over the place," according to Kenen. "The president has accused Democrats and the media of hyping the virus — one that’s killed thousands worldwide — to hurt his reelection prospects, calling the criticism 'their new hoax,'" he writes. "And he’s repeatedly hinted that a vaccine is coming soon, despite being told directly and repeatedly that in the most optimistic scenario it’s at least a year away."
Experts are calling the mixed messaging a "communications nightmare" for health officials, and making matters worse, that mixed messaging is coming from an administration that has a history of denying science -- and now thanks to Trump, they have to worry about how talking about the crisis will affect the stock market.
"Scientists who contradict Trump sometimes run into a buzz saw — or in the case of Trump’s false predictions on Hurricane Dorian last fall, pressure to walk back the facts."
Read Kenen's full piece over at POLITICO.