The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The coronavirus warning should have come from the top

President Trump removes his face mask after returning to the White House following his treatment for covid-19 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, on Oct. 5.
President Trump removes his face mask after returning to the White House following his treatment for covid-19 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, on Oct. 5. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Purdue University President Mitch Daniels dove headlong into the political and policy issues of the coronavirus pandemic in his Jan. 3 op-ed, “Lockdowns needed to come with warning labels, too.” Mr. Daniels made verifiable statements about the effect of “lockdowns” on public health, including delayed treatment of other diseases, severe stress, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse, among others. Mr. Daniels made a seamless transition from “lockdowns” (curiously, he never defined the term) to the term “nonmedical prescriptions” (a vague reference to lockdowns, or does it include other public health measures such as hand-washing, use of face masks, social distancing?), which he cleverly suggested need package inserts, similar to prescription drugs.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Daniels’s position that “no one asked [scientists and epidemiologists] for guidance about damage to educational attainment, economic prosperity or even other health consequences.” He said someone else — governors, mayors, school boards — should consider these issues. Conspicuously (or conveniently) omitted was the federal government, including the president.  

The president should have been truthful about the severity and lethality of this virus and how best to mitigate its effects based on the best scientific evidence. In every instance, President Trump has failed the American public in dealing with this virus. To suggest that a package insert is necessary to accompany a series of failed, deadly policies and practices by Mr. Trump was pure folly. 

John W. Kusek, Lewes, Del.

Mitch Daniels missed the point of the failed U.S. response to the coronavirus. Lockdowns are a small part of a bundle of policies (masking, social distancing, testing and tracing, and self-isolation) that the most successful nations used to control the virus. They held their death rates to a tiny fraction of that in the United States, indicating that a good policy response could have saved more than 350,000 lives. This fits among “cases where the risks of not using them are too great.” 

It is true that “experts should be ‘on tap, not on top,’ ” but it is even more true that they should not be under constant attack, as they have been in the United States during the pandemic. The medical profession, rather than being “blind . . . to the side effects,” adheres to a precautionary principle. It saves lives as knowledge and understanding accumulate, precisely because the consequences of inaction are so dire. 

“As time went on” and the United States fell further and further behind, it became crystal clear that a good cure (including a lockdown) is much less costly than the disease. 

Mark Cooper, Silver Spring

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