OPINION

Editorial: Put health pros in charge to defeat COVID-19

Staff Writer
The Columbus Dispatch
Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Public Health, answers a question during a press conference calling on the state legislature to ban flavored vaping liquids on Tuesday, October 1, 2019 at the Statehouse.

Gov. Mike DeWine’s headache at the Ohio Department of Health has become a full-blown migraine with no relief in sight.

It took the governor three months from Dr. Amy Acton’s abrupt resignation on June 11 to name her replacement as state health director, but the new appointee, Dr. Joan Duwve, had barely been introduced before she rejected the appointment.

Duwve subsequently issued a statement citing concern that her family would be subjected to the same kind of severe harassment that her predecessor had endured, with protesters — some carrying firearms — demonstrating against Acton on the lawn of her home in Bexley.

Of course, the potential for such public outcry should have been easy to quickly discern and discuss for anyone considering an appointment to succeed Acton. A nasty vendetta against DeWine’s health director grew among her detractors proportionately with the praise she received from countless others for her calm, steady guidance for staying safe in Ohio’s early efforts to ward off coronavirus infection.

Acton was credited with helping DeWine take a science-based leadership role among U.S. governors with some of the first decisions to close schools and businesses to help Ohioans avoid exposure amid the global pandemic.

And Acton was not the only state health official to come under fire for leading a strong response against the virus. The Associated Press reported in August that more than four dozen state and local health directors had resigned or been fired over objection to their handling of the pandemic within their jurisdictions. The AP report quoted Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as lamenting attacks on medical experts from President Donald Trump on down.

“The overall tone toward public health in the U.S. is so hostile that it has kind of emboldened people to make these attacks,” Frieden said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has received death threats for trying to combat coronavirus as one of the nation’s most knowledgeable infectious disease experts, having served both Democratic and Republican administrations.

And when Michael Caputo, the top communication official at the Department of Health and Human Services, was accused last week of systematic interference in official pandemic reports, he alleged that career scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were trying to undermine Trump.

The politicization of medical expertise is the real shame of how the U.S. is navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this moment, we need to be guided by individuals who can interpret medical data without bias and translate it with confidence into concrete actions for a united front against a deadly disease. Wearing a covering over our noses and mouths when in the company of others and keeping a safe social distance should be considered basic good sense and respect for our neighbors, not a political declaration.

With the U.S. about to crest 200,000 COVID-19 deaths — many times more than the 35,000 or so flu deaths seen annually — it must be apparent that coronavirus is a serious public health crisis in need of the best medical intervention available.

We hope that DeWine is soon able to secure a credible new leader for the state health department who is not frightened off by ill-informed individuals seeing political motives where they don’t exist. The best plan to defeat COVID-19 will be defined by public health professionals.

- Columbus Dispatch