- Vice President Mike Pence has been appointed to spearhead the Trump administration’s response to coronavirus.
- The CDC on Tuesday warned that it’s only a matter of time before the virus, which originated in China, spreads in the US.
- Pence continues to face criticism over his handling of an HIV outbreak in rural Indiana while he was the state’s governor. For over two months, he refused to approve a clean needle exchange to help slow the crisis.
- A 2016 study found the scale of the HIV outbreak in Indiana was avoidable.
- The Trump administration has faced criticism for sending conflicting messages about coronavirus, as the president downplays the threat amid the CDC’s warnings.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced he’s tapped Vice President Mike Pence to lead the administration’s approach to the spread of coronavirus.
“He’s got a certain talent for this,” Trump said during a press conference.
But Pence’s response to an HIV outbreak in Indiana while he was the state’s governor looms over this appointment and raises questions about his suitability for this role.
— ABC News (@ABC) February 26, 2020
Health officials in late 2014 became aware of an HIV outbreak in Scott County, Indiana, a rural county with a population of roughly 24,000. Previously, HIV was extremely rare in the county, but cases skyrocketed among people who use needles to inject drugs. One hundred eighty one people who lived in or used drugs in Scott County tested positive for HIV between November 2014 and August 2015, according to a 2016 study, which found that the crisis was avoidable.
Ultimately, a cluster of 215 infections were attributed to the outbreak, Reuters reported in 2018.
Even after learning about the outbreak, Pence slow-rolled the initiation of a clean-needle exchange, which officials at every level were urging him to agree to. It was against the law to possess a syringe in Indiana, and Pence opposed needle exchanges because he believed they encouraged drug use.
Over two months after officials detected the outbreak, Pence issued an executive order to allow for the distribution of syringes in Scott County, per The New York Times.
“The governor wanted to make sure if we went this route it was absolutely necessary,” Pence’s health commissioner told the Times in 2016. “I believe he was praying on it up until the final decision.”
Subsequently, the number of new HIV cases in the country dropped.
After Trump announced Pence would spearhead the administration’s coronavirus response, his handling of the HIV outbreak in Indiana was widely discussed on social media.
When Mike Pence was governor of Indiana, his public health record was so stellar that his state policy led directly to a large HIV outbreak.
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) February 26, 2020
Pence who was fine with "converstion therapy," and didn't believe smoking causes cancer and chose prayer over medicine to combat HIV which led to an outbreak when he was governor in Indiana is tapped to lead us through #CoronavirusOutbreak. Everything will be fine. pic.twitter.com/oqnjHnoly3
— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) February 27, 2020
Mike Pence, who was Indiana’s governor during the worst HIV outbreak in the state’s history, is now in charge of the coronavirus response.
Welp, we had a good run y’all. https://t.co/QMKLG9YJcc
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) February 27, 2020
The Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus thus far has faced bipartisan criticism in recent days. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday warned that the spread of coronavirus, a respiratory disease that originated in Wuhan, China, is inevitable in the US.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said she spoke to Pence on the phone and expressed concerns about the administration’s response to coronavirus so far. “This is about resources – it’s also about personnel. It’s also about respect for science, for evidence-based decision making,” Pelosi said during a press conference. The House Speaker previously criticised Trump’s request of $US2.5 billion from Congress to address the virus as overdue and inadequate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she addressed concerns over Vice President Pence's past health record as governor and would like to move forward to "have the adequate funding and the respect for science and evidence based decision making" pic.twitter.com/HwC8PGFrRW
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) February 27, 2020
Trump has sought to downplay the threat of coronavirus to the US while focusing heavily on the economy as financial markets take a hit amid panic over the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, public health experts have warned that Trump’s history of lying undermines his credibility as the country braces for coronavirus, while expressing a lack of confidence in the US government’s preparedness.