Why I Cancelled My Travel Plans. Hint: It Wasn’t Fear Of Contracting The Coronavirus

Why I Cancelled My Travel Plans. Hint: It Wasn’t Fear Of Contracting The Coronavirus


Leonard Zwelling


         I am not afraid of the coronavirus. Like so many communicable diseases, it is likely not about to get to the U.S., but already here. Once widespread testing becomes available, my guess is that there will be thousands of cases detected, many asymptomatic, yet possibly contagious. For all we know, asymptomatic kids are the source of the contagion.

         The illness is spreading in Italy and American air carriers are cancelling flights to and from Milan. I am sure flights to and from South Korea will be curtailed soon as well and, since the spread is likely, soon flights to and from many foreign countries may be stopped. Call it the functional Wall. And America will pay for this one, too.

         No, I don’t fear the coronavirus as much as I fear the current government’s lack of candor with regard to the truth and the ability to respond in a way that protects Americans, both here and abroad. I also think that once widespread testing is available, the prevalence and incidence will rise and send a shock wave through the nation and through an under-prepared federal government.

         Mike Pence, appearing on Meet the Press on Sunday, March 1 is, as the link above states, exactly the wrong guy for this job. He’s also a weak point man. He is no one’s idea of a leader.

         Despite the fact that I personally know two of the members of the president’s coronavirus crisis management team, Steve Hahn and Tony Fauci, I still do not believe anything that emerges from the White House. After all, how many times has the president lied about everything? Does he listen to anyone? Why should we believe him now? And that’s the point.

         What I fear is that the Trump Administration will not take actions based on what is best for America, but for what is best for Trump and his re-election. If closing all borders to incoming travel from foreign destinations would energize Trump’s base and solidify his advantage in the coming election, he would not hesitate to lock us all in and keep all others out, even Americans stuck abroad. I simply do not trust this group to do the right thing nor do I trust Trump and Pence to take the best advice from people I know and trust myself.

         We are in a strange time. If Mr. Trump triumphs in the coming election, the federal government may stagger along for another four years leaving the next guy or gal to pick up the pieces, much as Peter Pisters has had to do after the DePinho years at MD Anderson. Pisters is still struggling to solidify a reliable team around him as he continually shuts the faculty out of critical decision-making (e.g., the moving of the Smithville faculty to Houston). Pisters has not rid himself of the residua of the DePinho crew and really needs new scientific leadership if MD Anderson is to retake its place in both basic and clinical research.

         It is perhaps the most important job of a leader to gain the trust of those he or she leads and to build a trustworthy team. Mr. Trump has not done this, especially as his team is constantly changing. Like past iterations of the Houston Astros, you can make an all-star team out of the people who have left the Trump Administration.

         I cancelled my trips to Argentina (a case has been reported now) and Hawaii because I could not trust the current government of the United States to do the right thing, to protect me, or to come and get me if I was stuck an ocean away. That’s why I included Hawaii on my cancellation plans. It may be America, but you can’t drive back from it if Trump suspends all air traffic.

         Many of my readers support the president. This is the first real test of his ability to lead. Upon the first test, he puts an arch conservative science denier in charge and throws him out to the talk shows in lieu of Dr. Fauci who was fantastic at the press conference on Saturday and is an experienced hand in all matters having to do with infectious disease, population management, and communication for lay people of complex medical information.

         For you Trump supporters, this is a clear example of why he has to go. You can’t trust him. You can’t believe him. You can’t depend on him in a crisis.

         If somehow we weather this, the markets rebound and/or a vaccine is developed, then Trump may wind up a hero. If, as is more likely, a vaccine is 18 months away, we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in American covid-19 cases, and once testing is widespread and the incidence of infection climbs, I think we will see how poor a leader Mr. Trump really is and he will make the best case of all for his own replacement.

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