The rash of coronavirus infections emanating from the White House, followed by President Donald Trump’s tweeted advice to the nation – “Don’t be afraid of Covid’’ – prompted the American Lung Association on Wednesday to issue guidance for those confronting the disease in hopes of dispelling misinformation.
Few Americans have access to the treatments and battery of doctors available to the president, so the vast majority can’t afford to be cavalier about an illness that has killed more than 210,000 in the U.S. and upwards of 1 million worldwide.
In a statement from its chief medical officer, Dr. Albert Rizzo, the ALA provided information about how COVID-19 symptoms progress, how long recovery usually takes and how to avoid infecting others.
“After several high-profile figures received confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses in recent days, many Americans are seeking clarity on how to respond should they or a loved one contract the virus,’’ Rizzo said.
A day-by-day account:A visual guide to President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 treatment
The statement goes on to counsel members of the public who get infected to isolate for 10 days from the point of getting a positive test result or develop symptoms, to work with a contact-tracing team and to consult with a doctor without leaving the house, possibly through telemedicine.
The ALA recommendations mostly reiterate guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but they come at a time of increased skepticism about the government’s instructions regarding the virus and fatigue about restrictions. A Cornell University study released last week called Trump the “single largest driver of misinformation around COVID.’’
In addition, Trump administration interference on matters related to the pandemic response – such as reopening schools – has been troubling enough to prompt four former CDC directors to write an editorial in July accusing Trump of politicizing science and undermining public health.
Stumbles and backtracking by the CDC, which has gone back-and-forth on the issue of airborne transmission of the coronavirus, may have further eroded confidence in what was previously regarded as the gold standard for such agencies.
Those factors are bound to result in people turning a deaf ear on messages from public health officials, said Dr. Maria Torroella Carney, who was the health commissioner in Nassau County, New York, during the H1NI outbreak of 2009-2010, also known as the swine flu pandemic.
“The messaging has to be based on trust. You have to have credibility,’’ Carney said. “If people don’t trust you, they’re not going to listen, and there’s mixed messaging going on in the community.’’
Carney said the message not only needs to be consistent, but repeated constantly and delivered in a simple way because people are stressed and don’t absorb information as well at times of emergency.
As the chief of the Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, Carney mostly deals with older patients and their caregivers. She has found them fearful of the virus and receptive to counsel, both from her and elected leaders like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has preached a go-slow approach to reopening his hard-hit state.
As evidenced by the multitude of outbreaks on college campuses since the fall term began, the younger set has been less responsive to recommendations about how to avoid contracting COVID-19.
“Those in the younger generation are not necessarily seeing their roles as being vectors in this illness,’’ Carney said. “The grandchildren who are visiting, they’re going out and about, because in general they’re not that affected. But they don’t see that they could bring this and hurt their family.’’