It’s Tuesday, February 18. In today’s newsletter: Why the coronavirus outbreak could bring out the worst in Trump. Plus: Is Bernie Sanders as polarizing as elite Democrats claim he is?
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(HAPPY TOGETHER / SHUTTERSTOCK / ARSH RAZIUDDIN / THE ATLANTIC)
The Trump administration isn’t ready for the coronavirus.
The outbreak of COVID-19, as the illness is now called, has thrown the world into panic. But if it spreads across the U.S., it could bring out the worst in President Donald Trump, who on top of a tendency to prefer his own instincts to the advice of experts, is famously a germaphobe.
Empathy may be a casualty of Trump’s own phobias: He is squeamish about contagion. A body man traveling with him would make sure that two implements were always in his possession: a Sharpie for autographs and hand sanitizer for germs, said a former White House official, who like others I talked with for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity. Aides would try to suppress coughs in his presence. If they couldn’t stifle repeated sneezes, Trump might order them to leave his presence. “He never said, ‘Go home.’ He just didn’t want them anywhere near him,” the ex-official told me.
When an Ebola epidemic struck in 2014, Trump was unnerved. For months, he sent dire messages with a common theme: Keep the virus out of the U.S. at all costs.
Would a quarantine of the scale China is implementing now—extended beyond the Wuhan epicenter to more than 50 million elsewhere in China—be possible in the U.S.?
A legal mess would certainly result, Polly Price, a global health professor, writes:
The average American may be surprised to learn who holds the authority to order such public-health measures. Except at the nation’s borders, the federal government, with the expertise of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is not in charge. America’s defense against epidemics is divided among 2,684 state, local, and tribal public-health departments. Each one is responsible for monitoring people within its jurisdiction, imposing isolation or quarantine as needed. CDC officials are “preparing as if [the new coronavirus] is the next pandemic,” but in reality, the laboring oar falls to state and local health departments.