For several days now, I’ve wanted to write something about the confusion surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. But each time I begin to write, the situation just gets more confusing, and alarming. 

I’ll just say upfront that I’ve dreaded, from the time the coronavirus began spreading in China in December and January, that it was for real. I’ve been monitoring it closely via the Johns Hopkins data site since, and I’ve become more of a believer, even as various skeptics saw the warnings about a pandemic as something other than what it has turned out to be—for example, the hidden dangers of 5G networks, a virus created by Chinese bioweapons researchers, a conspiracy to usher in martial law, just a variation on the regular flu. 

I can’t disprove any of these theories, except to point out that rulers in China, Europe, and the U.S., stand to lose much more than they ever could potentially gain from the economic devastation and loss of trust resulting from the shutdown of daily life and the commerce that results. In the U.S., the stock market last week made clear that the Trump administration’s efforts to politicize and minimize the danger was a terrible miscalculation. 

Probably the most vivid example of politicization is the infuriating shortage of test kits, which prevent public health professionals from obtaining essential data on how widespread the disease is, so containment actions can be taken. 

The credible journalistic investigations I’ve seen (like this from Politico and this from The New York Times, indicate the U.S. didn’t want to deal with the World Health Organization (WHO) and wanted to produce its own kits.  A convincing case can be made that  the real intent was to delay the introduction of test kits to somehow keep the numbers of cases low, keep Trump’s personal “score” down to avoid political blame. 

Whatever the background stories, American politicians have effectively sidelined the public health community, failed to take its warnings seriously. As the politicians point fingers and public health professionals do a slow burn, America sits practically grounded in every significant way, with ordinary citizens running around to stock up on toilet paper and worry if they can even get a COVID-19 test and diagnosis if they show signs of illness. How could such a sorry situation have been allowed to occur? 

For regular readers of this blog, all this politicization shouldn’t be a big surprise. For more than a decade, readers here have watched American public health professionals disparage and scapegoat raw dairy producers and consumers, even as the real dangers decreased and benefits were demonstrated by real research. 

We’ve also seen America’s mainstream media join in almost as flag waving proponents for the public health assault on raw dairy. Last week, it happened yet again, as NPR’s Morning Edition aired a report with the title, “Why Raw Milk Is More Dangerous and Costs More Than Pasteurized Milk.” Mary Childs, the reporter, said we’ve seen “a raw milk revival in recent years, fueled by growing distrust in big food companies and things like GMOs, also the general rise in demand for organic food. Raw milk advocates point to studies that they say shows some benefits of drinking raw milk. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention adamantly disagrees.”

Childs noted that the CDC “says those (European) allergy studies don’t really show much, and any potential benefit is not worth the risk. Milk often contains harmful germs, like E. coli, listeria, salmonella. Before pasteurization became the standard a hundred years ago, milk was a huge contributor to infant mortality and linked to diseases like typhoid. And then, in the 1920s, pasteurization made it safer.”

Case closed. After all, what could happen in a mere hundred years since widespread pasteurization that might be relevant today? 

We’ve seen the public health and medical communities disparage skeptics on vaccination and on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as well. Not that public health needs to accept what any of these skeptics argue, but its professionals could show more respect and openness to additional research and investigation instead of arrogantly rejecting the skeptics as kooks and weirdos.

Is it a surprise, then, that skepticism of public health abounds from any number of quarters? I feel badly for the public health professionals now trying to talk sense into our president and other pols about the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic. But they should understand better than anyone how politicization of public health can backfire in real life.