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An infectious disease expert and former Obama administration official blasted alleged racial inequities in President Trump’s push to reopen the U.S. economy.
Richard Besser, former acting head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President Obama, claimed on CNN that “if you have money and you’re white” you will be less impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The former CDC official, who was appointed in 2009 and oversaw the agency’s public health emergency preparedness and response, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday that there is evidence proving poor and minority communities are being “devastated” by COVID-19.
Besser made his remarks during “Anderson Cooper 360” when the CNN host teed up a question about President Trump allegedly “encouraging people to violate” the safety guidelines his administration put in place.
“You’re the former acting director of the CDC. Could you ever have imagined a scenario in which the leader of the country who has put out guidelines about — to keep people safe and back those guidelines is now encouraging people to violate those guidelines and backing protesters who are protesting against the very guidelines that person put out?” Cooper asked smugly, without ever mentioning the president by name.
“Back in 2009 during the swine flu pandemic, when I went to brief the president and the cabinet, what President Obama said to me at the time was ‘We want everything that you do to be based on the best public health science,’” Besser recounted.
“And I took that message back to the CDC. The Emergency Operations Center broke out in cheers. It was just what people wanted to hear,” he continued. “It’s what the public needs to hear now, that everything that we’re being told to do is based on the best science. Without that, there’s no way of knowing what things are being told for political reasons and what things are being done for good science reasons.”
“You know, as we’re seeing different populations around the country being affected in different ways, black Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, just getting devastated by this, we need to understand what the government is doing to address those issues and protecting all front-line workers,” Besser added.
“Dr. Fauci has asked the question ‘How much suffering are you willing to accept. How much suffering is acceptable?’ And that is kind of the key question moving forward. Is there an answer to that?” Cooper asked, referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the Trump’s coronavirus task force.
“I don’t think you can ask that question until you are taking every step possible to protect and preserve and save every life that you can,” Besser responded.
“We don’t have the testing capacity now to know where this disease is. We haven’t scaled up the thousands and thousands of contact tracers that we need. We don’t provide safe places for people to isolate or quarantine if they’re identified as either having an infection or being in contact,” he continued.
“We’re saying if you have money and you’re white, you can do well here. If you’re not, good luck to you,” Besser said.
Cooper naturally did not push back, but agreed with the infectious disease expert.
“That is what it boils down to,” he said. “All the inequities that existed before are exponentially higher in a pandemic like this.”
“I don’t think you can say ‘How much suffering are you willing to bear?’ until you’ve done everything possible to ensure that every single person in America can take measures to protect their own health, the health of their families, and the health of their communities, and that’s just not the case right now,” Besser responded.
“So it’s a false question. Until we are ensuring that every workplace has protective equipment. The front-line workers we consider essential, we didn’t consider them essential before this began. Most of them weren’t being paid a living wage. Now they’re being forced to bear the brunt of this,” he added. “We can’t accept that as a society. It’s not the America we really believe we should have.”
Cooper concluded the segment with another dig and noted that “a lot of the essential workers, a number of them, are actually still vulnerable to deportation.”
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