Fmr Obama CDC Director on Trump’s Rapid Push to Reopen Economy: ‘If You Have Money and You’re White, You Can Do Well’


A former Obama administration CDC director called out the stark socioeconomic and racial inequities in President Donald Trump’s push to rapidly reopen the economy, as poor and minorities communities continue to suffer disproportionately from the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Richard Besser, who was acting head of the nation’s disease control agency during the early part of President Barack Obama’s first term, spoke with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday. During the conversation, he highlighted the grim outcome that will likely result from a premature relaxation of shelter-in-place rules. Besser’s comments came in the wake of numerous states opening up business and travel and news reports that the White House could soon be standing down the coronavirus task force in an apparent declaration of victory over an outbreak that still sees thousands of Americans dying every day.

“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 recalled. “And I took that message back to the CDC. The Emergency Operations Center broke out in cheers. It was just what people wanted hear. 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.”

Besser then pointed out the compelling evidence that poor communities as well as African-Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos are being particularly “devastated” by the virus, often dying at rates substantially higher than more affluent and white populations.

“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 put to Besser.

“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 emphasized. “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. We’re saying if you have money and you’re white, you can do well here. If you’re not, good luck to you.”

“That is what it boils down to,” Cooper 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 said. “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. We can’t accept that as a society. It’s not the America we really believe we should have.”

Watch the video above, via CNN.

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