Opinion: Worry more about Pence, not the coronavirus

The Trump-Pence administration’s response to this potential pandemic is the real sickness to be feared.


Shivansh Ahuja

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a during a farm visit hosted by America First Policies in Waukee on Wednesday, October 9, 2019.

Becca Bright, Columnist

It’s been less than a month since I wrote about why Iowa shouldn’t panic about the coronavirus.

We still shouldn’t. The Iowa Department of Public Health still states that risk for Iowans becoming ill with the virus is very low.

While COVID-19 may become a pandemic within the U.S., current public risk is still something manageable. It’s also important to note that no cases have been confirmed in Iowa.

What is being reported by mainstream media, however, is not fear of a pandemic itself. The virus will inevitably continue to affect a proportion of Americans. Cases elsewhere in the country are happening.

There is a greater fear of those who have been tasked with protecting public health — Vice President Mike Pence — and with good reason.

The continuation of American health and safety depends on the distribution of facts and resources. Our leader is President Trump, who is an impulsive, self-prioritizing vessel of misinformation. His running mate, who has been tasked by Trump to lead the U.S. coronavirus response, isn’t much better.

While Trump has assured Americans the VP has “a certain talent” for managing public-health crises, Pence’s history of this “talent” is deeply questionable.

If he refused to prioritize the CDC’s words for Indiana’s outbreak, how can Americans trust him to be the voice for national public health?

This is not the first public-health crisis Pence has faced. In the 2010s, his home state experienced a HIV outbreak. It took months for the then-Indiana governor to respond to the increase in HIV cases. 

His conservative policies caused a local Planned Parenthood clinic to shut down in 2013. This meant that free HIV tests were no longer available to those who desperately needed them.

At the time, several medical experts called for the Needle Exchange Program, which had been strongly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The group assured the governor its approach would have a positive impact in preventing HIV transmission, and would save lives.

Even so, Indiana law made this program illegal during this time, and Pence opposed the CDC’s proposals. 

Over time, he briefly made it legal for those with HIV to seek affordable and accessible treatment. What the future vice president made permanent was the number of lives lost in his state while governor. His idleness in even addressing the outbreak and his reluctance to follow expert advice of medical teams is troubling.

This man simply should not be given executive authority in confronting the coronavirus.

Pence’s conservative dogma that excludes much of the middle and lower class is itself a threat. If he refused to prioritize the CDC’s words for Indiana’s outbreak, how can Americans trust him to be the voice for national public health?

As Democratic presidential candidates said during the South Carolina debate on Tuesday night, this country cannot count on Pence.

The U.S. has immense resources, both in aid and research, that can still secure Americans’ well-being against the coronavirus. But these resources are now being controlled by someone who will likely neglect these resources.

We as a community must stay informed, and trust the leadership of our doctors and scientists. 

Treating a potential pandemic is difficult. But it is far harder to treat a nation already sick from neglect by their political leaders. It isn’t something that is prayed away.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.