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Hoax Politics and The People’s Health


“Hoax” may just be the most over-used word of this political era, right up there with “fake news” and “alternative facts.”  We have grown used to the political class making stuff up, glossing over facts, accusing others of the lies that they tell, themselves, with great aplomb and a righteousness once reserved for serious preachers.  Our president has been known to call climate change a “hoax,” as he termed the Mueller Report,  refugees seeking asylum, and impeachment.

So, it’s hardly surprising that the president and his chief of staff used the word “hoax” to describe the Coronavirus outbreak last week.  Within a day, the administration walked back that cavalier dismissal of the disease as an opposition plot, but still, the immature and politically selfish image of an administration consumed with its own politics lingers.

Politicians of all stripes bend the truth to fit their own narratives; presidents of both parties have told some legendary whoppers.  But in any given era, the quality of a president’s leadership is measured not by political victories but by the manner in which the president is able to speak to, comfort and inspire people broadly, not just the base, and especially in times of challenge and crisis.  Great leadership is all about rising above politics and reaching beyond bitter partisan divides to calm a population nervous about whatever threat looms.  Think of President Roosevelt’s famous line in the midst of the worst Depression in American history, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  American history offers good examples of presidents across the political spectrum rising up in times of crisis to inspire and lead a frightened, upset public.

The threat of a pandemic as Covid-19 spreads is real, though whether it will become a serious problem in the United States remains to be seen. At present, the local health threat is minimal; there are no confirmed cases in the Washington region.  American and global stock markets are reacting badly because the virus is disrupting manufacturing and supply chains, and likely to harm economic productivity in some key regions.

Globally, Coronavirus has spread from China to Japan to South Korea to Iran and Italy and now to Washington State and Oregon, California and other states. In a world where people travel from place to place with relative ease, congregating in airports and transportation hubs, it’s not surprising that an infection can run through the global population in a matter of weeks.  Colds and flu do this all the time, and we cope with our “airplane colds” as a matter of course.  Taking a threat of a new disease in stride and with a calm response is important; but dismissing the emergence of the disease as some kind of political plot is simply irresponsible.

Scientists know that a deadly virus claims no political party, inflicts its damage on Republicans and Democrats and Independents alike.  Scientists, epidemiologists, doctors and other medical professionals should be the leaders of any sensible national response to the potential crisis.  The real hoax is the idea that political leaders can effectively address the spread of disease.  They cannot.  Real leaders would step back to allow the people who know about microbes and the methods of disease transmission to be in the forefront.  Responsible political leaders are humble enough to know what they don’t know and powerful enough to use their authority to direct adequate public funding to scientific research and medical preparedness.  Sadly, our political leaders of recent fame have disparaged and diminished science, undermined research and under-funded preparedness.  Reports are that it will take up to a year to develop an effective vaccine for Coronavirus, so we are on the front lines with soap and tissues — actually, sometimes the simplest and most old-fashioned of remedies are the best.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control provide the primary guidance to the American public on health threats.  We expect to learn more from the CDC as the situation evolves, but for now, the guidance on their website is useful.  At Trinity, we are monitoring the CDC and DC Board of Health for additional information, and will share what we know with the campus community as guidance becomes available.  For now, as always, we ask that everyone follow the basic rules for community health, including frequent hand washing, using tissues when you sneeze or cough, and staying home if you are sick.  Trinity Health Services is available to assist anyone who needs personal attention.

Trinity Campus Messages About Coronavirus

On March 2, 2020, President McGuire and Health Services Director Dr. Jacqueline Newsome-Williams issued these messages to the campus community:

From President Patricia McGuire:

Dear students and colleagues,

As the global community faces the threat of a pandemic caused by the spread of Covid-19, known as Coronavirus, I want you to know what Trinity is doing to ensure your health and safety.  We are following the situation closely and in touch with health authorities to be sure we have the most updated information and guidance.

Dr. Jacqueline Newsome-Williams is Trinity’s Director of Health Services and she is our chief liaison with external agencies responsible for public health guidance, including the Centers for Disease Control and the D.C. Department of Health.  She is in touch with the other health services directors of the colleges and universities in the Washington region.  She will be writing to you shortly with additional information, and she has posted guidance from the CDC on the Trinity Health Services website.

As of this writing, there are no confirmed cases of Coronavirus in D.C. or the Washington region.  We are not aware of any cases affecting members of Trinity families, but if you have such information, please let Dr. Newsome-Williams know.

While knowledge about this virus and treatment are evolving in the U.S., following are standard practices that everyone should always follow to mitigate the spread of viruses and other germs within the community (list from the Centers for Disease Control):

CDC recommends individuals and families follow everyday preventive measures:

  • Voluntary Home Isolation: Stay home when you are sick with respiratory disease symptoms. At the present time, these symptoms are more likely due to influenza or other respiratory viruses than to COVID-19-related virus.
  • Respiratory Etiquette: Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw it in the trash can.
  • Hand Hygiene: Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60%-95% alcohol.
  • Environmental Health Action: Routinely clean frequently touched surfaces and objects

Routine use of these measures by individuals and their families will increase community resilience and readiness for responding to an outbreak

To ensure that Trinity supports this guidance, I have directed our Facilities Team to be sure that all soap dispensers are working in all restrooms; that hand sanitizer dispensers are full and working; that paper towels are available throughout; and that extra attention be given to cleaning all public areas and sanitizing restrooms as frequently as possible.

If you are sick, please stay home or in your room.  This applies to students, faculty, staff and visitors.

If you are traveling, please consult the CDC travel advisory page for information about exposure in other countries.

Be aware that there are already reports of much false information on the Internet, and also bad actors perpetrating fraud through phishing emails about coronavirus.  Be wary of emails from individuals you do not know.

Dr. Newsome-Williams will issue additional information as necessary to help keep everyone aware of the issues and able to plan sensibly for whatever circumstances develop.  Most important, please remain calm and use common sense.  Nobody really knows what might happen at this point, but spreading rumors is unhelpful.  We will do our best to keep you well-informed with good information.

Thank you for following the best practices to keep our community health.

President Patricia McGuire

From Health Services Director Dr. Jacqueline Newsome-Williams:

Good Day Trinity:

The latest information regarding the Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) suggests that the immediate health risk to the general public is low.  Most recently this past weekend, the United States (US) experienced its first two deaths related to this disease involving two immuno-compromised males, ages 50 and 70 years old in Washington State.  While the information communicated from the White House Task Force on last week headed by Vice President Mike Pence suggests no major threat to the US in comparison to other countries, Trinity Washington University will be closely monitoring this outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus first detected in China as espoused by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), District of Columbia Department of Health (DCDOH), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

On January 27, 2020 a Fact Sheet on 2019-nCoV was placed on the Health and Wellness Center site on Trinity Washington University’s website indicating that while there are some confirmed U.S. cases of the illness known as 2019-nCoV, no cases have been confirmed in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia.  To date, 8 cases were submitted to the CDC from the Commonwealth of Virginia that were confirmed negative and Maryland has had 2 cases that tested negative and 3 tests results are pending.  The District of Columbia has no confirmed cases according to Mayor Muriel Bowser in the latest announcement on last week.

This situation may change quickly as more information is available regarding how the virus is spread.  When information is available, we will make every effort to keep everyone informed.

The CDC recently classified China as a level 3 warning destination, recommending that all individuals avoid nonessential travel to the country. The U.S. State Department has classified China as a level 4 travel advisory, recommending that individuals avoid all travel to the country.

As in previous communication, Trinity Washington University advocates the following actions that everyone can take to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.  Sanitizers are distributed throughout the university campus for convenience.  
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home if sick and inform your University academic counselor or supervisor of any absence.
  • Cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Students and Trinity Washington University faculty and staff who have not yet received an influenza vaccine please do so at the Health and Wellness Center, 4th Floor Main Building. Vaccinations may also be available with your primary care provider or local pharmacies

Dr. Jacqueline Newsome-Williams
Director of Health Services

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: