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Solid science, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, are essential during this pandemic

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

A few decades ago, I noticed that my aging father, who loathed all jewelry besides his wedding ring, was wearing a copper bracelet.

"It's supposed to be good for aches and pains," he muttered, sounding a bit less than convinced of its alleged powers.

"Y'know that's probably not going to do you any good," I said, seizing this golden opportunity to show that his help with my college costs had not gone to waste.

"Well," he said with a shrug, "it's probably not going to do me any harm either."

Also true. As I later confirmed through a little library research, there is scant evidence of any medicinal impact of copper bracelets, except perhaps turning your wrist green.

Unfortunately, not all such disputes over alleged wonder cures are so easily resolved.

The rise of the coronavirus pandemic in our American age of social networks and sociopolitically polarized everything has led to an explosive mix of facts, falsehoods, rumors, snake oil sales and paranoid alternative realities, all preying on public fear and desperation.

Although this is hardly the first time that an information crisis has broken out within a larger, sweeping public health crisis, one is hard-pressed to recall one in which the nation's president is this deeply supportive of the untested miracle cure side of the debate as President Donald Trump has been.

The contrast came into full public view at the president's March 20 daily coronavirus press briefing when reporters asked about chloroquine, a drug typically used for malaria that Trump touted earlier in the week as a possible treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

After Trump praised chloroquine again, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the widely respected head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, politely stepped up to the microphones to caution that evidence supporting chloroquine as safe and effective against COVID-19 is thin and anecdotal until clinical trials can be conducted.

It's hard to argue with Fauci, who has held his post through administrations of both parties since the early 1980s. But Trump stepped back up to give it a try.

"I'm probably more of a fan of that -- maybe than anybody," he said. "But I'm a big fan, and we'll see what happens. We all understand what the doctor (Fauci) said is 100% correct: It's early. But I have seen things that are impressive. We'll see. We're gonna know soon."

I have often said that if I ever write a book on Trump's presidency, the perfect title might well be, "We'll See What Happens." It seems to be his most-used conversational closer, regardless of the topic.

 

But this time he continued: "I feel good about it. That's all it is: Just a feeling. I'm a smart guy."

Right. As my copper bracelet-wearing dad used to say, whenever somebody tells you how smart they are, they probably aren't.

Still, Trump capped it off in familiar fashion: "I've been right a lot. Let's see what happens."

Yes, let's. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don't want to wait.

Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, a New York family doctor, got this national conversation started after treating people with coronavirus-like symptoms with an experimental treatment that includes the anti-malarial medication hydroxychloroquine, a less-toxic derivative of chloroquine.

Sean Hannity, Fox News host and close Trump friend, promoted Zelenko's claims on his TV and radio shows. Mark Meadows, incoming White House chief of staff, called Zelenko to get more information. Rudy Giuliani also praised him in a podcast interview, and Trump began to promote it as "very effective" and possibly "the biggest game changer in the history of medicine," despite the lack of proper testing and research to support that.

Still, self-described "smart guy" Trump has been smart enough to keep Fauci on his coronavirus task force, despite some loony claims by paranoid right wing and, I would argue, anti-science conspiracy theorists.

The wing nuts suspect or claim to suspect Fauci, a leading expert and advocate of social distancing, is secretly trying to undermine Trump's reelection chances. In fact, he's a major asset in Trump's effort to stop the virus and keep his job.

But don't expect rational thinking from the paranoid right or left. The threats have led to Fauci's receiving enough death threats to be assigned enhanced personal security. Asked about it, he bravely shrugged off the threats and security as an unfortunate part of his job. But he deserves better. Much better.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2020 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

 

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