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TERRY COWGILL

Our country’s resolve is probably going to be tested in the months ahead as the deadly coronavirus makes its way around the world.

As of Friday, there were 67 confirmed cases in the United States, with none yet in Connecticut, though neighboring Massachusetts and Rhode Island have reported one apiece.

The vast majority of U.S cases, about 45, were from travelers stranded and later evacuated from a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, which had been docked in Yokohama, Japan. The mortality rate is about 2%, though some healthcare professionals are guessing it’s a lot lower than that because of underreporting.

The first U.S death was confirmed Saturday in the state of Washington, followed by the country’s second fatality from the virus, confirmed Sunday.

Connecticut appears ready, or as ready as any state can be in a situation with little precedent.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced Friday that the state Department of Public Health’s laboratory is now equipped to conduct testing for the disease, known as officially as COVID-19.

The DPH has set up a handy webpage with resources and answers to frequently asked questions.

At a gathering last week in Milford, Lamont told attendees that, “Our eyes are wide open.” The state’s two U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, told of their efforts to secure federal funding and denounced the Trump administration’s request to Congress for $2.5 billion as wildly insufficient. They are instead requesting $8.5 billion.

Still closer to home, I was diagnosed last week with Influenza A. I’ve been sick for two weeks and have been working from home on a reduced schedule. Fortunately, it’s not the coronavirus, but it has been a bizarre experience to contract the flu and suffer from it as I watch and read media accounts of people dying across the globe from a different kind of influenza.

Even more unsettling has been the news coverage and the response to the crisis on the part of the federal government. It is certainly easy to criticize the news media for overreacting to the coronavirus crisis.

As is the case with many sectors of the economy, there are certain perverse incentives built into the news business. One of those, of course, is to emphasize controversy in order to monetize the news. This is nothing new, but as is often the case, the biggest offender appears to be the cable news channels.

The occasional excesses have given Trump the ammunition he needs to fire away at his favorite whipping boy, CNN.

Some of the coverage has been excessive but Trump did not help himself by, for example, initially saying the development of a COVID-19 vaccine was imminent, only to be promptly corrected by one of his own health officials who said a vaccine would be at least a year and half away and thus unavailable to fight the current crisis. Besides, given his own estrangement from the truth, Trump should forgive the news media for questioning his veracity. After more than 16,000 lies or misstatements since the Trump presidency began, if the media were to accept what the president says at face value, it would be an abdication of responsibility.

Besides, it is a lazy analysis to reflexively blame the news media in general for exacerbating the crisis. The data are coming from health officials themselves – namely the Center For Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Indeed, the CDC has labeled COVID-19 an “emerging public health threat” and has warned that, “It’s likely that at some point, widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States will occur.”

The director general of the WHO says the organization has “increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at a global level.” Nevertheless, the director general wisely added that, “Our greatest enemy right now is not the virus itself. It’s fear, rumours and stigma.”

Yes, there are some Democrats, such as Murphy and Blumenthal, who have taken the opportunity to attack the Trump administration for its response to the crisis. Are they politicizing a public health crisis or do they speak for millions of people who think the administration should do more?

I can’t read their minds but it’s obvious what the president thinks. He has labeled criticism of his team’s response “a hoax” – a word he uses to describe virtually any criticism of him or his administration. If members of the news media are guilty of overhyping the COVID-19 threat, then Trump is clearly guilty of underplaying it.

But perhaps the worst politicization of the crisis has come from no less than the president’s son himself. Donald J. Trump Jr. recently said of Democrats: “For them to try to take a pandemic and seemingly hope that it comes here and kills millions of people so that they could end Donald Trump’s streak of winning is a new level of sickness.”

I’d say the younger Trump’s comments have themselves reached a new level. Methinks the lad has managed to plumb new depths of abject stupidity. For me, it’s back to hot soup, vitamin C, Gatorade, and naps – lots of them.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at thenews@hotmail.com.

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