LOS ANGELES (CN) — Congressman Adam Schiff said in a virtual forum Wednesday that the Trump administration’s mixed messaging on health guidelines and its slow response to develop a national testing and surveillance strategy has failed Americans.
U.S. health officials marked a sobering milestone Wednesday when the nation’s death toll from the coronavirus surpassed 100,000, the highest tally in the world.
Nearly 1.7 million Americans have been infected with the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
Despite the grim death toll, many states have pushed to reopen segments of their economy.
Speaking in a University of Southern California-hosted virtual talk on political leadership in the era of the Covid-19 pandemic, Schiff said the push to reboot certain sectors of the economy and send some Americans back into their workplaces should be guided by science.
“Some take the view that the health of our economy can somehow be segregated from the health of our people. I don’t think that’s true,” Schiff said at the USC Price School of Public Policy-hosted talk. “Both are entangled. If we don’t get it right, we’ll see more outbreaks of the virus and unnecessary loss of life.”
Schiff, a Democrat who represents California’s 28th Congressional District, has been a staunch critic of the Trump administration’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying the country lacks a national strategy to fight the spread of the disease.
Schiff told USC professor and forum host Carol Geffner that President Donald Trump’s refusal to follow public health guidelines on face coverings and his use of hydroxychloroquine sends the wrong message to Americans.
“You can’t send mixed messages and expect people to follow you,” Schiff said. “If you don’t wear a mask, you’re sending a message that people shouldn’t listen to health experts. You need to be straight with people about the difficulties ahead, not misleading them about false cures, easy ways out or quick fixes. That is a terrible disservice to the country.”
The move by many of the nation’s governors to form economic coalitions and order their own ventilators and protective medical gear for health workers demonstrates the failure of the White House to respond adequately to the crisis, Schiff said.
“That kind of competition should never be happening in a crisis. There should be a federal response,” Schiff said. “They should be promulgating national standards and be a reservoir of expertise.”
Last month, Schiff – chairman of the House Intelligence Committee – led Democrats in a push to create a commission to assess the federal government’s response to the global pandemic.
The bipartisan commission would have the power to subpoena relevant materials to their investigations and conduct public hearings, while briefing Congress, the president and the public on its findings.
California’s Democratic Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein said they will introduce companion legislation in the Senate.
Geffner asked Schiff how political leaders should inspire Americans to stay engaged in political matters, noting that a presidential election remains on the calendar this year.
“When people are mostly concerned about their safety and health, how do we inspire people to stay engaged,” asked Geffner, who teaches governance, management and policy at USC.
Schiff said issues that grabbed national headlines before the pandemic such as climate change are still relevant and that people should engage with organizations that remain connected to political action.
“The problems of the world haven’t disappeared, they haven’t gone away,” Schiff said. “There’s nothing worse than feeling powerless about your circumstances so finding ways to be involved is tremendously important for the country right now but also for people’s wellbeing.”