In the one month since the first U.S. coronavirus death, America has become a country of uncertainty.
New cases of infection and casualties continue multiplying. New York and Louisiana hospitals are grappling with a flood of patients that threatens to overwhelm their health-care systems. Meanwhile, the president and political conservatives are increasingly agitating to end drastic restrictions meant to buy time and save lives.
Running beneath it all, in a continuous loop through our national psyche, are basic questions leaders are struggling to answer: When can we safely lift these quarantines? How many people could die if we do it too early? Just how dangerous will this pandemic turn out to be? And what exactly should be our next step?
This is why epidemiology exists. Its practitioners use math and scientific principles to understand disease, project its consequences, and figure out ways to survive and overcome it. Their models are not meant to be crystal balls predicting exact numbers or dates. They forecast how diseases will spread under different conditions. And their models allow policymakers to foresee challenges, understand trend lines and make the best decisions for the public good.
But one factor many modelers failed to predict was how politicized their work would become in the era of President Trump, and how that in turn could affect their models.
In recent days, a growing contingent of Trump supporters have pushed the narrative that health experts are part of a deep-state plot to hurt Trump’s reelection efforts by damaging the economy and keeping the United States shut down as long as possible. Trump himself pushed this idea in the early days of the outbreak, calling warnings on coronavirus a kind of “hoax” meant to undermine him. [Continue reading…]