John O’Connor

 Perhaps as never before, party affiliation is coloring policy matters.

The debate on any issue these days seems to focus less about the merits of a response than which side holds it.

So to be clear, the last thing I want to do is tick off many of our readers. But sometimes the obvious needs to be pointed out. This is one of those times. For the life of me, I cannot understand the White House’s attitude toward the ongoing pandemic. Distilled, it amounts to: Why the big fuss?

Here’s why: As this is being written, COVID-19 has killed more Americans than World War I. And the fatalities are mounting, still.  

Yet to hear the White House describe it, the issue has been reduced to a nothing-burger that’s well under control. The same message, more or less, is being delivered by various federal health agencies.

To be sure, we are all entitled to our opinions. But such sentiment flies in the face of a reality many long-term care operators are experiencing.  For all too many in this sector, COVID-19 is nothing short of an existential threat.

The spreading pandemic has literally killed thousands of residents and staff in a few short months. Needed medical equipment and supplies are difficult if not impossible to obtain. And millions of older Americans and their adult-age children are openly questioning whether congregate living in old age is actually a good idea. None of these are helpful developments for a sector known for surviving on razor-thin margins.

Yet Vice President Pence recently wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal suggesting that the real problem is that the media is not celebrating an obvious victory.

“We’ve slowed the spread, we’ve cared for the most vulnerable, we’ve saved lives, and we’ve created a solid foundation for whatever challenges we may face in the future,” he wrote. Considering there is no cure or even a vaccine for the coronavirus, that is a jaw-dropping assessment. Pence’s take reminds me of the old Chico Marx line: “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

As if such dubious messaging is not bad enough, President Trump held a rally in Tulsa on Saturday that put thousands of people in close proximity to each other — masks optional. Many in attendance were age 65 or older. Moreover, the event took place as Oklahoma was reporting record numbers of new coronavirus cases. Talk about a disconnect.

But it’s not just providers who are questioning the surreal goings on. A Gallup and West Health survey released Thursday found that 57% of U.S. adults rated the national response to COVID-19 as fair or poor. If that’s not a warning to President Trump and his minions that downplaying a pandemic is a dubious choice, I’m not sure what is.

Should these words in any way sound like an endorsement for his opponent, please know they are not. I’m not convinced Joe Biden would have handled things any better if he was running the country.

No, the criticism here is directed wholly at a flawed response to a major healthcare crisis. It’s a response, frankly, that requires belief in fiction over fact.

Look, the last few months have been trying times for us all. It’s not hard to see why so many people are done with the pandemic. Unfortunately, the pandemic is hardly done with us. 

To ignore or undermine steps that would help limit further damage is not simply reckless. It’s a good way to get more people killed.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s