Francis Collins on Faith, Science, and Coronavirus

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Collins is the director of the National Institutes of Health and a devout Christian. Over at The Washington Post religion page, Sarah Pulliam Bailey talks with Collins about the coronavirus.  Here is a taste of the interview:

Have you seen resistance from faith leaders over public-health messages about the coronavirus?

I would think the church would resonate with messages of social distancing, given that the church has always been trying to look out for those who are most vulnerable. And yet it still does seem as if in some instances that hasn’t quite filtered down, maybe because there has been some suggestion that there’s a political aspect of this pandemic, which is truly unfortunate, because there’s not.

There is a lot of false information out there on social media to suggest that maybe this isn’t as bad as it is and maybe there are no risks going to church or gathering outside of church. Those are dangerous activities that might not put you at risk if you’re young and healthy, but you might pass it to somebody else who could potentially get very sick or even die.

What do you think faith leaders could be doing from a public-health perspective right now?

There’s a natural instinct for people of faith who are loving and wish to give themselves to others who are hurting to rush in the direction of people who are vulnerable or who are suffering. And over the course of many centuries, people of faith have, to their great credit, put themselves in harm’s way.

Right now, they could focus their efforts on trying to supply, nurture and support all of their flock who are struggling right now. This is stressful. This may lead to people having fears, anxiety and other mental-health issues. Pastors ought to be doing everything they can to maintain that connection but not put people at risk.

How are you thinking about your own faith in the middle of all of this?

It’s a challenge. One does not like to see happening across the whole world a sudden outbreak of the sort that will cause enormous suffering and early deaths for so many people. It is hard to get your head around that. I guess I find myself more engaged in prayer than usual. I’m just trying to, in some small way, trying to get in touch with all of this and what my role ought to be. It is heartbreaking. I am glad I have the faith that I can lean on in this circumstance, but I have questions that don’t have good answers. I know how this happens scientifically. I ask God for help for all those who are suffering and grieving.

Read the entire interview here.

Rich: “We’re Relying on Trump to Care About Our Lives”

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Last week, New York governor Andrew Cuomo asked mental health professionals to volunteer their services during this coronavirus crisis. In today’s press conference, the governor announced that 6000 mental health professionals have signed-up to offer free services to those in need.  Every state in the country should be doing this.

Perhaps I missed it, but I have yet to hear Donald Trump address the question of mental health. As Frank Rich recently argued in his column at The New York Times, Trump seems incapable of this kind of empathy. Here is a taste of his piece “We’re Relying on Trump to Care About Our Lives.” A taste:

During Sunday evening’s briefing, when he was supposed to be comforting Americans on the precipice of financial ruin, he instead lamented the billions of dollars he had supposedly forgone to be president. Our self-glorifying “wartime president” morphed into a self-pitying Daddy Warbucks.

“I think it’s very hard for rich people to run for office,” he said. “It’s far more costly. It’s a very tough thing. Now, with all of that being said, I’m so glad I’ve done it. Because, you know, there are a lot rich people around. I’ve got a lot of rich friends, but they can’t help and they can’t do what I’ve done, in terms of helping this country.” I’m glad he’s glad. Scratch that. I’m dumbfounded.

It has been observed, accurately, that he’s exactly the wrong leader for this crisis because he has thinned the ranks of responsible professionals in government, because he has hollowed out relevant departments and agencies, because he devalues science, because he degrades information and because he parted ways with credibility years ago.

But it’s worse than that. He’s facing judgment calls that require an emotional depth and a moral finesse that simply don’t exist in him. America is relying on him, of all presidents, to care as much about vital signs as about dollar signs.

He did that when he asked the nation to stand still for 15 days, but can he continue to do it? I’d have doubts if the economy were merely the biggest of many bragging points for him, if it were just a major part of his political profile.

Read the entire piece here.

Trump’s Shocking Answer to a Reporter’s Question at Today’s Press Conference

Watch Trump’s answer to Yamiche Alcindor‘s question during today’s coronavirus press conference:

Trump’s answer is quite shocking, and not just because he called Alcindor’s question “nasty.”  He seems to have no clue what’s going on in his own administration. In May 2018, John Bolton, the National Security Adviser at the time, eliminated the Global Health Security team in the National Security Council set up to in the wake of the Ebola outbreak.

Here is The Washington Post on May 10, 2018:

The top White House official responsible for leading the U.S. response in the event of a deadly pandemic has left the administration, and the global health security team he oversaw has been disbanded under a reorganization by national security adviser John Bolton.

The abrupt departure of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer from the National Security Council means no senior administration official is now focused solely on global health security. Ziemer’s departure, along with the breakup of his team, comes at a time when many experts say the country is already underprepared for the increasing risks of a pandemic or bioterrorism attack.

Ziemer’s last day was Tuesday, the same day a new Ebola outbreak was declared in Congo. He is not being replaced.

Pandemic preparedness and global health security are issues that require government-wide responses, experts say, as well as the leadership of a high-ranking official within the White House who is assigned only this role.

Read the rest here.

On May 8, 2018, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown also expressed his concerns in a two-page letter to Trump:

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As Brown wrote, “In our globalized world, where diseases are never more than a plane ride away, we must do all we can to prepare for the next, inevitable outbreak and keep Americans safe from disease.”

Alcindor asked a question that deserved an answer. Trump’s response shows the incompetency of the Trump presidency.  I am reminded of homeland security expert Juliette Kayyem‘s remark yesterday: