Other View: It’s time to rebuild trust in medical experts | Editorials

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week announced new guidelines in communities with declining COVID-19 numbers. As the United States nears its millionth coronavirus death, a drop in virus counts is news we’ve all been waiting to hear.

But according to Dr. Gerald Harmon, president of the American Medical Association, the United States faces another pandemic that could be even more dangerous. Too many Americans, he said, have lost faith in medical experts and scientists.

“This pandemic of mistrust was probably starting before COVID-19,” Harmon said in a speech to the National Press Club on Feb. 24. “But the extreme polarization during this crisis has deeply hampered our country’s ability to respond. This is one of the main reasons the United States has a much higher death rate from COVID-19 compared to to other well-resourced countries.

Mixed messages about masks and social distancing and political attacks on scientists and doctors are among the factors contributing to this lack of trust, according to Harmon.

“Playing the blame game is an exercise in futility, but we recognize these missteps,” he said. “Our focus now must be on learning from those mistakes and rebuilding the confidence lost as a result.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Andrew Noymer, professor of public health at the University of California, Irvine, agreed with Harmon’s assessment of this loss of confidence and how it could affect our ability to deal with future variants of COVID.

With many Americans already removing their masks, the CDC’s change in recommendations last week won’t make much of a difference now, Noymer said, but it will help during the next wave of infection, which is likely in the fall or in winter. because people will have had a break from wearing masks.

“If we have continual masking commands, they could become a total joke by the time we really need them again,” Noymer said.

Going forward, the AMA urges the media to remain vigilant to help readers easily separate fact from fiction. This includes social media companies, such as YouTube, where many so-called medical experts continue to share misinformation about the virus.

The AMA also asked public health agencies to base their decisions solely on scientific evidence and data. It’s critical, Harmon said, that these agencies do their part by increasing their vigilance against the kind of behavior that undermines trust in public health recommendations and vaccines.

“It can be accomplished; he said, “while adhering to the First Amendment principles that we all hold dear.”

As COVID-19 infections dwindle and we try to get back to life as we knew it before COVID-19, it’s up to all Americans to do their part to fix the nation’s ailing healthcare system and restore confidence in scientists and health professionals. Learning from the mistakes we have made in responding to the current pandemic is the only way to ensure a better response to any future public health emergency.

Kokomo (Indiana) Grandstand

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