By Mary Lyon
Inconsistent and sometimes conflicting White House leadership confronting the coronavirus is enough to drive the average citizen to seek a second opinion. It’s no wonder that state and local officials are putting such a high priority on compiling and sharing reliable information.
Oregon Health Authority policy advisor Charles Gallia is blunt: What’s most important and most needed right now “is somebody whose word you can trust.” HD37 Rep. Rachel Prusak says it’s a sky-high priority in Salem right now to “make sure people don’t have misinformation.”
Prusak and Gallia both applaud the new COVID-19 update page launched at the end of February on Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley’s website. The link features regular updates on “Federal Action,” “Resources for Individuals” and “Resources for Employers.”
Gallia also recommended the Oregon Health Authority’s page Novel Coronavirus Updates (COVID-19). Prusak endorses both Merkley’s page, OHA, and the Centers for Disease Control. She says legislators and the Governor’s office are coordinating with OHA to make sure everyone has plenty of solid updates and usable tips to share with constituents.
Clackamas County Commissioners declared a two-week “state of emergency” in early March and are working closely with counterparts in Washington County as well as with officials in Salem. The declaration is a step below a “public health emergency,” but still allows greater and more flexible access to state resources. As of March 2 there were three known incidents of presumptive coronavirus in Oregon on record, two locally and a third in Umatilla County. The “state of emergency” in Clackamas County remains in effect through Monday, March 16; the county’s COVID-19 webpage has updated information.
OR-5 Congressman Kurt Schrader wrote a guest editorial in the Statesman Journal outlining plans for a coordinated, interagency-research framework on zoonotic viruses and diseases, which originate with animals and mutate to affect humans. He says the coronavirus, Ebola, and SARS are examples of this.
Schrader’s article also offers a list of “Commonsense measures” for minimizing risk of exposure.
Some ideas for limiting exposure also seem aimed at lowering stress levels. CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta expects a return of what he calls “the Ebola Elbow Bump” to replace the standard handshake. Gupta says preventive medicine is as simple as thorough handwashing and not touching your face. “We touch our face more than we realize,” adding that something as minimal as keeping your hands away from your face “isn’t just a euphemism. That actually helps curb an outbreak.”
There is a contagion we definitely do not need, though. It’s the spread of fake news, conspiracy theories or smears, as when Donald Trump Junior tried to blame this crisis on the Democrats, while his father cut crucial funding to the CDC and other public health institutions, dismissed the outbreak as a hoax and suggested it might miraculously go away. Vice President Pence heads a coronavirus task force now staffing up to meet the growing public health crisis, but it still faces the challenge of a White House not known for truth-telling and a president who values flattery over facts.
Locally, by contrast, we have officials for whom this is personal. Prusak’s earlier career was as a family nurse practitioner working in the ER during the SARS outbreak. Schrader studied zoonotic diseases as a veterinarian. And Merkley’s take on medical issues is influenced by the viewpoint and experience of the nurse he married. Ironically, it’s the locals to whom the feds defer. Pence on CNN praised the integrity of information from local officials. And Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar describes state and local officials as “frontlines of response.”