On Tuesday night, a former acting CDC director under President Barack Obama implied that the current push by the Trump administration to reopen the economy had a racial tinge to it, saying that the message was “if you have money and you’re white, you can do well here. If you’re not, good luck to you.”
Dr. Richard Besser was speaking with CNN’s Anderson Cooper when Cooper prompted, “You’re the former acting director of the CDC; can you ever have imagined the scenario in which the leader of the country who has put out guidelines about to keep people safe and backed those guidelines is now encouraging people to violate those guidelines and backing protesters who are protesting against the very guidelines that person put out?”
Back in 2009 during the swine flu pandemic, when I went to brief the president and the cabinet, what President Obama said to me at the time was “We want everything that you do to be based on the best public health science.” And I took that message back to the CDC. The Emergency Operations Center broke out in cheers. It was just what people wanted to hear. It’s what the public needs to hear now: that everything that we’re being told to do is based on the best science. Without that, there’s no way of knowing what things are being told for political reasons and what things are being done for good science reasons.
You know, as we’re seeing different populations around the country being affected in different ways, black Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, just getting devastated by this, we need to understand what the government is doing to address those issues and protecting all front-line workers.
Cooper asked, “Dr. Fauci has asked the question ‘How much suffering are you willing to accept. How much suffering is acceptable?’ And that is kind of the key question moving forward. Is there an answer to that?”
Besser answered, “Well, you see, I don’t think you can ask that question until you are taking every step possible to protect and preserve and save every life that you can.”
Cooper: “And that’s not being done.”
Besser continued, “What’s not being done, we don’t have the testing capacity now to know where this disease is. We haven’t scaled up the thousands and thousands of contact tracers that we need. We don’t provide safe places for people to isolate or quarantine if they’re identified as either having an infection or being in contact. We’re saying if you have money and you’re white, you can do well here. If you’re not, good luck to you.”
Cooper: “That is what it boils down to. All the inequities that existed before are exponentially higher in a pandemic like this.”
Besser: “I don’t think you can say ‘How much suffering are you willing to bear in order to restart the economy until you’ve done everything possible to ensure that every single person in America can take measures to protect their own health, the health of their families, and the health of their communities, and that’s just not the case right now. So it’s a false question. Until we are ensuring that every workplace has protective equipment. The front-line workers who we’re consider essential, we didn’t consider them essential before this began. Most of them weren’t being paid a living wage. So now they’re being forced to bear the brunt of this. We can’t accept that as a society. It’s not the America we really believe we should have.”
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