“When the coronavirus arrived in Italy, it also arrived in the heart of global Catholicism.” – The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 27, 2020
Sick Pope Francis skips planned mass as Italy grapples with coronavirus
PLUS: Democrats Pan Trump’s Choice of ‘Pray on It’ Pence to Manage Virus Response
Feb 27, 2020
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is sick and skipped a planned Mass with Rome clergy across town on Thursday, officials said.
The Vatican said the 83-year-old pontiff had a “slight indisposition” and would proceed with the rest of his planned work on Thursday. But Francis “preferred to stay near Santa Marta,” the Vatican hotel where he lives.
There was no word from the Vatican about the nature of his illness, but the pope was seen coughing and blowing his nose during the Ash Wednesday Mass. It comes amid an outbreak of the coronavirus in Italy that has sickened more than 400 people, almost all of them in the north. Rome had three cases, but all three were cured.
Francis had been scheduled to go to the St. John Lateran basilica across town to meet with Rome clergy and celebrate a penitential Mass at the start of Lent.
Francis is bishop of Rome, but delegates the day-to-day running of the archdiocese to a vicar.
The Argentine pope has generally enjoyed good health. He lost part of one lung as a young man because of a respiratory illness, and suffers from sciatica, which makes walking difficult.
Francis has had a busy schedule lately, including his public general audience on Wednesday and the Ash Wednesday service later in the day in a Roman basilica.
During the audience, Francis made a point to shake hands with the faithful in the front row, kissed a baby during his popemobile spin through St. Peter’s Square and greeted visiting bishops at the end. The prelates, however, appeared to be refraining from kissing his ring or embracing him, as they normally would do.
Sanders Blasts Trump’s Choice of ‘Pray on It’ Pence to Oversee Coronavirus Response
Feb 27, 2020
Rolling Stone – President Donald Trump named Vice President Mike Pence to oversee the government’s response to the coronavirus this week, raising immediate concerns because of how the former governor of Indiana mishandled an HIV outbreak in the state during his tenure.
Following Trump’s Wednesday press conference on the coronavirus, candidate Bernie Sanders ridiculed the president’s handling of the epidemic thus far, as well as the appointment of Pence to lead the government’s efforts to contain it.
Trump’s plan for the coronavirus so far:
-Cut winter heating assistance for the poor
-Have VP Pence, who wanted to “pray away” HIV epidemic, oversee the response
-Let ex-pharma lobbyist Alex Azar refuse to guarantee affordable vaccines to all
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) February 27, 2020
Sanders’ “pray away” quote was a reference to Pence’s response to Indiana’s 2015 HIV crisis, which happened while the vice president was governor.
The closing of a Planned Parenthood clinic and the cutting of funding for needle exchanges were seen as major causes of the worst HIV outbreak in state history.
During a 2015 news conference, Pence was pressed on whether he’d sign legislation for a temporary needle-exchange program, and replied, “I’m going to go home and pray on it … ” Read more.
White House hopefuls target Trump on coronavirus response
But some experts and Democrats warn that the candidates risk exacerbating a public health crisis if they go too far in politicizing the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar all went after Trump during their CNN town halls Wednesday night. A number of the candidates have released their own pandemic policies, and Bloomberg is even airing an ad contrasting Trump’s response to the outbreak to his own handling of the aftermath of Sept. 11.
It’s a potent political issue, as it gets at what Democrats see as two major potential weaknesses for Trump: questions about his competence as president and health care issues.
“The threat from coronavirus and the chaos of the administration is front and center in everyone’s mind,” said Jesse Ferguson, a longtime Democratic strategist and former spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “Not talking about it means you’re missing voters who are deeply worried about the public health threat and deeply concerned about the Trump administration’s incompetence.”
Warren, Klobuchar and Bloomberg have all released public health plans detailing how they’d address and prevent similar outbreaks as president.
Feb 28, 2020
Democrats target Trump on coronavirus response
Bloomberg, Biden, Warren
Feb 28, 2020
Biden has previously slammed Trump for “hysterical xenophobia and fearmongering” rather than respecting science on the issue.
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, another 2020 Democratic hopeful, issued a statement Thursday night calling for Trump to allow her state to buy COVID-19 testing kits from Japan. She said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was “failing to provide them.”
“As an island state, with responsible leadership, we can keep this virus out. But, we won’t be able to do that without our state and federal leaders taking it much more seriously than they are right now,” she said.
But sounding the alarm on the administration’s coronavirus response also holds risks.
Florida Rep. Donna Shalala, who served as secretary of health and human services under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, had a stark warning for Democrats.
“Don’t open your mouth until you know what you’re talking about. This is politics. They need to listen to the scientists as well,” she said.
That is a major criticism Democrats have lobbed at Trump — that he has botched his response and fostered more confusion by publicly contradicting the scientists in his administration about the severity of the virus.
On Wednesday, the Republican president sought to minimize fears at a White House press conference in which he insisted the U.S. is “very, very ready” for an outbreak and predicted: “This will end … there’s no reason to be panicked.” But standing next to him, the health officials in charge of handling the outbreak predicted more cases are coming in the U.S.
Democrats are not immune to the critique themselves, however. During Tuesday night’s primary debate, both Biden and Bloomberg made the erroneous claim that Trump cut funding for the CDC.
While Trump proposed cuts to the CDC in his budget blueprint, he was overruled by Congress, and the eventual budget he signed included an increase in funding.
Biden corrected his comments during Wednesday night’s CNN town hall but went on to warn that Trump “did not have a plan to deal with how you equip hospitals.”
Bloomberg, meanwhile, criticized Trump at a Houston rally on Thursday, accusing him of “burying his head in the sand” and charging that “his failure to prepare is crippling our ability to respond.”
But the public health system has a playbook to follow for pandemic preparation — regardless of who’s president or whether specific instructions are coming from the White House. Those plans were put into place in anticipation of another flu pandemic but are designed to work for any respiratory-borne disease.
Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, warned that “any time political ideology starts to dominate the dialogue, it puts the public at risk.”
“The history of good public health is that when things become politicized, we risk a good sound response and a response based on science and expertise,” she said. “This is a situation that’s changing by the moment, and that makes it all the more delicate.”
Kates warned that there should be some “caution around not stoking panic and not using the partisan environment to steer away from basic public health messaging” — but acknowledged that will be tough “in a very partisan time, during campaign season.”
Both parties are guilty of politicizing public health pandemics when they’re not the party in charge of the White House, she noted. During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, Republicans routinely slammed the Obama administration for similar critiques Trump is facing from Democrats — namely, that he was too slow to respond and didn’t appoint an adviser to coordinate the government’s response quickly enough.
But Kathleen Sebelius, who served as Obama’s secretary of health and human services from 2009 to 2014, said Democrats have a lot more to criticize when it comes to Trump’s response.
“We have the components of what could be a perfect storm. Are there ways to deal with it calmly and rationally? You bet. Is the United States well prepared? It seems like there are some gaps,” she said.
She pointed to the fact that the initial White House funding request was just a fraction of what had been allocated for past viral outbreaks like Ebola, and Trump himself has largely left it up to Congress to sort out the details. She also noted that a number of key positions set up by Obama to deal with global pandemics have now either been eliminated or left vacant, and she called out Trump for contradicting his own scientists on the severity of the threat.
Shalala agreed — but she warned Democrats to be “careful” to focus their critiques on the president and not the experts in the administration who are trying to tackle the crisis.
“There are things that they can criticize, like the inadequate funding request and the president muddying the waters” at his press conference, she said, “but they shouldn’t be criticizing the agency heads and the very good scientist physicians that are trying to do their jobs.”
But some Democrats say the conversation around the coronavirus is fair game because it gets at a much broader issue for Trump: questions surrounding his leadership.
“Electing a president isn’t about a series of issue check boxes on a spreadsheet. It’s about the public’s confidence that you can lead the country, especially in times of crisis,” Ferguson said. “If we can’t demonstrate the fundamental failure of this administration to lead in this crisis, then we are not talking about the thing that people think about when electing a president.”