Vice President Mike Pence will take charge of the US response to the new coronavirus, President Donald Trump announced today. “Mike is not a czar,” Trump said. “I don’t view Mike as a czar.”
Pence is not a public health expert, either. Instead, as governor of Indiana, he slashed public health spending and delayed the introduction of needle exchanges, which led to the state’s worst outbreak of HIV. He takes over from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar who has been heading the White House coronavirus task force since the beginning of January.
Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves, who conducted the research linking the Indiana HIV outbreak to Pence’s policies, tweeted that the decision “speaks to a lack of seriousness by the White House.”
Pence also has a history of downplaying the link between smoking and lung cancer, writing in a 2000 op-ed that “despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”
There are currently 15 people in the US identified by the public health system who have confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. There are an additional 45 cases in people who were repatriated to the US from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and from Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, and held in quarantine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that there will likely be more cases of COVID-19 in the US, and people should prepare for disruptions to everyday life if it starts to spread more widely.