The Senate Covid-19 Hearing Makes Clear That Public Health is the Government’s Mistress
A particular exchange between Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, underlines the faulty thinking surrounding the relationship between governance and public health:
Senator Paul: As much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don’t think you’re the end-all. I don’t think you’re the one person who gets to make a decision. We can listen to your advice, but there are people on the other side saying there is not going to be a surge and that we can safely open the economy, and the facts will bear this out.
Dr. Fauci: I have never made myself out to be the end-all and only voice in this. I’m a scientist, a physician, and a public health official. I give advice according to the best scientific evidence […] I don’t give advice about economic things. I don’t give advice about anything other than public health.
Two lines from Dr. Fauci’s response bears repeating: “I’m a scientist, a physician, and a public health official,” and “I don’t give advice about anything other than public health.”
Senator Paul, far from being humble, attacked a public health official for doing his job: advising policymakers on facts related to this pandemic. He wants Dr. Fauci and other health officials to suddenly join the chorus of those on the “other side” and cancel this whole coronavirus thing. He wants their professional opinion as long as it echoes his political one.
As the hearing went on, as Senators from both sides of the aisle questioned Dr. Fauci, CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield, and Assistant Secretary for Health for HHS Dr. Adm. Brett P. Giroir, it became apparent that public health advisors are increasingly under pressure to present, formulate, and implement policy, a power they do not have.
Asking Dr. Fauci when schools should open is not the same as seeking advice as to when they should open, or asking what are the peculiarities of this virus that may preclude reopening schools, or what measures legislators at the national, state, and/or local level should consider in determining the appropriateness of reopening schools and campuses.