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Wonkette photoshoop based on work by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons license 2.0

There were two big takeaways from Donald Trump's big coronavirus presser last night. One that the scientists know what they're doing, and they're concerned, but Donald Trump wants you to look on the bright side and share his assumption that everything's gonna be just fine. The other is that Trump has handed the job of coordinating the government's response to Vice President Mike Pence -- apparently without informing HHS Secretary Alex Azar beforehand! -- and that should really make all of us worry more than a little bit, given Pence's shitty record on public health.

We refer in particular to Pence's mishandling of an HIV outbreak when he was governor of Indiana. At least there will be plenty of Thoughts and Prayers to keep the virus at bay. Unfortunately, several top posts at the Centers for Disease Control are held by women, so it's unclear at this point how long containing coronavirus may be delayed by having to work with Karen Pence's schedule to make sure Mother can attend all meetings between the VP and those temptresses.


As Huffington Post pointed out during the 2016 campaign, Pence managed to fuck over his state from two entirely different positions of public trust. When he was in Congress, he led the 2011 push to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood. He was on a mission from God, and basically invented the idea of defunding Planned Parenthood to stop abortion. Oops, but that had some very direct consequences for Indiana when he became governor, because Planned Parenthood does a lot more than abortions.

In 2013, his first year in office,

Scott County's one Planned Parenthood closed in the wake of public health spending cuts. Since that particular Planned Parenthood was also the county's only HIV testing center, there was no longer a place for the county's 24,000 residents to get tested.

Nearly 20 percent of Scott County residents live below the poverty line. Injection drug use there is a major problem, increasing the risk of HIV outbreak.

Then again, most of the people being infected probably never voted for Pence, so we doubt he saw any downside there. As Evan noted during the campaign, Pence's funding purge killed five Planned Parenthood clinics across Indiana, although not a one of them provided abortion services. As Trump said at the presser last night, Pence "has a certain talent for this."

And by the time Scott County experienced a full-blown HIV and Hepatitis-C outbreak in January of 2015, HuffPo explains,

Local health officials began to report HIV cases linked to intravenous prescription opioid use in Scott County. Scott County residents were sharing needles to inject their opioids, and nobody was getting tested.

The situation quickly spiraled out of control. At the height of the outbreak, 20 new cases of HIV were being diagnosed each week, reaching a total of nearly 200 cases by the time the outbreak was finally under control.

Pence didn't declare an emergency until two months into the outbreak, and because he's an upstanding moral man of God, opposed the opening of even a short-term, local needle exchange in Scott County until April, because he knew in his heart he couldn't condone or promote drug use. Far better to let fear of death prevent people from shooting up. As he said before he eventually reversed his opposition, "I don't believe effective anti-drug policy involves handing out drug paraphernalia."

Except for how that doesn't work, because addiction is a lot stronger than nice God-fearing moralizers understand. Public health experts know that, but Mike Pence doesn't like experts, thank you.

"People think that if you give someone a syringe, it means they're going to go out and inject drugs, and if don't give them syringes, they won't inject drugs," Robert Childs, executive director of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, told HuffPost in 2015.

"But the thing is that if you don't give them syringes, they share them, and then people will start getting HIV and viral hepatitis C."

Once the Scott county needle exchange went into effect, the reduction in new HIV cases convinced Pence to allow another four counties to start needle exchanges, so hooray for his willingness to eventually listen to the experts -- after he prayed on it for a while, of course. And as the Washington Post points out,

In 2018, researchers at Yale University found the epidemic could have been prevented if Pence and state officials had acted faster. The study received financial support from the federal government.

"Our findings suggest that with earlier action the actual number of infections recorded in Scott County — 215 — might have been brought down to fewer than 56, if the state had acted in 2013, or to fewer than 10 infections, if they had responded to the [hepatitis C] outbreak in 2010-2011," the paper's senior author, Forrest W. Crawford, said in a statement at the time. Instead they cut funding for the last HIV testing provider in the county."

He has a certain talent for this. Happily, so far, nobody's gotten covid-19 from shooting up.

Even so, some public health researchers are less than enthusiastic about Trump's point man on coronavirus. Yale infectious disease researcher Gregg Gonsalves said on Twitter:

That's right, Yale infectious disease researcher Gregg Gonsalves's first reaction was "Oh my fucking God."

Still, we probably should be delighted Trump put the talented Mr. Pence on the case. We're sure he'll listen to the science and then do the right thing for America, just like in 2000, when he listened to the science on smoking and then posted a cute editorial on his personal website declaring

Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer. This is not to say that smoking is good for you ... news flash: smoking is not good for you. If you are reading this article through the blue haze of cigarette smoke you should quit.

Well heck, if ONLY ten percent of smokers get cancer, and ONLY a third of smokers die of a smoking-related illness, then by golly, the mortality rate for coronavirus -- which is still being determined, but appears to be somewhere around two percent -- should mean nobody needs to worry much.

Now sure, maybe Mike Pence has learned and grown in the last 20 years when it comes to thinking about disease. More importantly, there's not a pro-coronavirus lobby pumping bad science and money into Republican campaign offices, so his previous defenses of smoking may not bode as badly for today.

Let's also not forget that while he was in Congress, Pence also proposed diverting government funds from real HIV prevention efforts to pray-away-the gay outfits. So, maybe Pence can pray away coronavirus! Or pray the gay out of the coronavirus! Or ... you know, whatever Mother suggests!

Good luck, America! Mike Pence is on the case!

[HuffPo / WaPo / Verge / Buzzfeed News / Merchants of Doubt / Wonkette photoshoop based on photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons license 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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