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COVID Truth In A Post-Truth World: “I Dunno” Is Not An Answer

“I dunno…”

That’s what our 3 year old granddaughter used to say when asked a question. What made it especially cute was when she raised her hands upward to the side of her head and gave a quizzical facial expression with her response.

When she said “I dunno” it was cute. Today, when we hear it as a nation it isn’t so cute. It is deadly serious in the truest sense of the word.

Today we are living what I have called “COVID truth”, a moment in time where truth is no longer true and where the alteration and repetition of “facts” fit a pre-determined desired outcome in the era of COVID-19. 

The results of this are plainly visible: A potentially deadly illness becomes a walk in the park; we shouldn’t get worried about a diagnosis of COVID; we shouldn’t allow it to upend our lives; an illness which could impact the world and an upcoming election becomes a source of secrecy and mystery as though the truth will hurt us all. 

With COVID truth, we will determine what we believe to be true; respected institutions can no longer guide us down a path of truth and evidence. Everything else is a lie, it is fake, it is not so.

There are a couple of realities that many are dealing with right now, and they deserve to be highlighted. Imagine the difference if each of these was handled with honesty, instead of “I dunno” and COVID truth:

  1. We want the truth about the President’s illness. We would like to know when he did find out he was infected, and what he did after learning—or even suspecting—that he may have acquired a coronavirus infection. Lives are at stake, people deserve to know. Instead, “radio-silence”.
  2. We can see that efforts notwithstanding, his breathing at times has been labored. Did he have infiltrates on his CT scan? What is his oxygen level? If he wasn’t so ill, then why did he get all of those medicines—one of which is investigational, and another which could increase the risk of death when used in patients who have less serious COVID-19 infections. Instead, “We can’t discuss that.”
  3. Why did he seal Secret Service agents in a closed vehicle space and ride around, exposing those agents to the coronavirus in the most cramped unventilated conditions imaginable? What were they thinking????
  4. Why can’t those who may have been exposed in the White House get accurate information about their risk or timing of exposure? This isn’t a third world country—this is the United States of America. The rate of infection in that office building is horrendous, enough to give any CEO of any company distress. Everything possible should be done to mitigate the risk. Apparently, those in charge don’t think so. Did they really believe appropriate public health actions would be a sign of weakness? Really????

The list can go on and on.

COVID truth allows one to bend reality to suit their own purposes during the time of a pandemic. It allows one to avoid some inconvenient truths. 

Sadly, this is reality—it is not a parlor game. This is about life and death. The good news: most people who contract COVID do OK. Some have long lasting effects. Some die. “I dunno” is not a response to a situation of this magnitude.

We need to recognize this is not the first President to limit information about his health. Reading about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt one sees that he went to considerable lengths to hide his paralysis from voters. Woodrow Wilson had a major stroke and tried to avoid letting the public know. He had proxies running the government. (Younger folks will have a difficult time understanding how that could happen. Remember, television wasn’t around back then, and clearly social media wasn’t even a concept. Today, it’s hard to hide information, and news travels quickly). So what we are experiencing today is not different than what has happened many times in the past.

And pity the poor physicians caring for the President: they have obviously been muzzled and find themselves caught in the middle of a mess not of their own making. Famous people have a right to privacy, and instead of invoking HIPAA regulations (which admittedly do prevent a doctor from talking to people about their patients’ medical conditions), why not just say the truth: the President doesn’t want his health information bandied about in the public square.  That would be a lot better than “I dunno.”

Instead, what is forthcoming is twisted in a way so as not to be truthful. One ends up parsing words to try to figure out what is really going on. That’s not helpful. The responses are shifted to a “COVID truth”, to fit a desired goal, apparently to fulfill a desire to appear healthy and robust in the face of a life-threatening illness, to appear strong and in charge, to deflate any expectation that such an experience might actually make an unmellowable person more mellow. 

Yes, some doctors may try to be more optimistic that meets the reality of the moment. However when a physician speaks to the world, they should speak to the world. Their overoptimistic spin is inappropriate in that setting. The truth is what counts. And if you can’t tell the truth, then don’t bother talking to us in the first place. It doesn’t do anyone any good. Doctors generally don’t do well not telling the truth. The world is a lot smarter than we are.

When we needed truth, we got “I dunno.” When we needed facts we got “I dunno.” When we needed to do effective contact tracing we got “I dunno.” And now a host of people at the top of our government and military are in quarantine because they are either infected or at high risk of infection or think they may have been exposed.

“I dunno” is not an answer. It is not an excuse. It is not truth. 

“COVID truth” is producing a whiplash in this country as our heads spin over all the things that have happened in the past several days. People don’t know what or who to believe, and the impact of this event is going to have a more  far reaching effect on the national psyche than most realize.

And it isn’t over yet.

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