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In our opinion: Coronavirus should be a rallying cry, not a political battle cry

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A large monitor displaying a map of Asia and a tally of total coronavirus cases, deaths, and recovered, is visible behind Vice President Mike Pence, center, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, left, as they tour the Secretary’s Operations Center following a coronavirus task force meeting at the Department of Health and Human Services, Thursday, Feb. 27.

AP

As angst continues to increase in relation to the rising number of coronavirus cases, it is important to remember that preparation, not panic, is what is needed. Likewise, the current threat should be a rallying cry for the country to come together in its preparations; it should not be a political battle cry to advance campaigns or partisan attacks.

Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Barack Obama and former Chicago mayor, is famous for saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” That may be good politics, but it shows a complete lack of leadership.

It was right and proper that President Donald Trump tap Vice President Mike Pence to run point on the effort. Sadly, within minutes of the press conference and during the following 24 hours, political opponents criticized Pence for his handling of an HIV outbreak in southern Indiana when he was governor.

Which isn’t to say politicians shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions; they should. But when and how that is done matters. Past presidents of both political parties have also tapped their vice presidents to lead efforts in similar situations. 

Some presidential hopefuls on the Democratic ticket have been quick to attack the president for his seemingly slow response to the outbreak. Again, a conversation about what can be done differently, better or more efficiently could elevate awareness and action. Playing to fear and uncertainty, on the other hand, exacerbates the situation.

So does the president attacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over differences in the amount of funding Congress will allocate for coronavirus efforts and where the accountability falls. That PACs, super PACs and political organizations on the left and the right are using the outbreak for fundraising is counterproductive and offensive.

Currently, the mortality rate for those who contract the virus is very small. Already more than 8,000 Americans have died from influenza this season, but as of Thursday only 62 cases of coronavirus could be confirmed in the U.S. No Americans have died. Although its nature has potential for significant regional outbreaks, it appears it primarily affects the old and those with already compromised health conditions.

Utah is showing, once again, that state and local officials, along with health care professionals, working in tandem with federal counterparts, can make significant preparations to minimize the impact of such an outbreak on the most vulnerable. There is a Utah-model approach to this that others states and the federal government can learn from.

The American people know how to rally in times of national struggle or when shared sacrifice and collaborative effort are needed. That American quality is precisely what leaders, at every level, should be tapping into. Citizens are increasingly annoyed and exhausted by the never-ending battle cries of partisan politics. Not only should leaders be calling on the “better angels of our nature,” they should be doing everything in their power to calm fears, create certainty and rallying the American people to come together to address this serious issue.

Seeing a good crisis go to political waste would be a good change. The current situation requires leadership. We should reject the politicized crisis management and instead respond to the rallying cry that has united the nation at other critical moments in our history.