Opinion: COVID-19, terrorism and the politics of fearmongering

Opinion: COVID-19, terrorism and the politics of fearmongering

It’s about how quickly the virus spreads after someone unknowingly transmits it.

  • Saturday, August 1, 2020 2:30am
  • Opinion

By Rich Moniak

On CNN’s “State of the Union” last Sunday, Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services, explained why wearing a face mask is the most important precaution people can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “We have to assume that everyone who’s on the street could be positive,” he said. “and if you’re positive, and you wear a mask, you will not transmit it to others.”

That’s exactly why there are mask mandates in Juneau, Anchorage and more than half the states.

In Laura Ingraham’s view, that’s all wrong.

“Before Americans are forced to accept new restrictions on their freedom,” the Fox News host argues, state legislatures should hold hearings and pass laws “that can withstand judicial scrutiny. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if you lose your pre-COVID way of life, for the rest of your life.”

I don’t know if there’s a term for stoking an unreasonable fear to push back against political opponents one claims is engaged in fearmongering. But Ingraham’s place in this debate is undermined in two other ways. How much she’s gotten wrong. And for promoting fear that Islamic terrorists are lurking among the country’s immigrant population.

From a statistical point of view, it’s easy to poke holes in the assumption Giroir wants everyone to make.

In Anchorage, only five of every one thousand residents have contracted the virus. It’s half that in Juneau. So assuming everyone is infected seems crazy.

But Giroir’s reasoning has little to do with assessing the raw odds. It’s about how quickly the virus spreads after someone transmits it without even knowing they were infected.

Terrorists, of course, kill people intentionally. But the odds there’s one plotting to do damage in our communities or the places we visit are far less than being exposed to the disease.

According the U.S. Department of Justice, 2,554 individuals on the terrorist watchlist attempted to enter the country in 2017. Most were denied entry at the border by Homeland Security. Federal and state law enforcement agencies were expected to detain the rest.

Ingraham would have us believe the policy of extreme vetting implemented by President Donald Trump prevented them from getting in. But even if they all had, they’d represent only 0.009% of the 28 million legal and illegal immigrants living here. That’s less than one in a hundred thousand.

The obvious comparison to make is the death toll. More than 150,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Islamist terrorists killed 2,996 on 9/11 and 130 since then.

Six people were killed in October 2017 when a 29-year-old from man from Uzbekistan intentionally drove a rented truck into joggers and cyclists on a New York City bike path. Ingraham argued it was easily preventable.

“Here, at home, we should not lose one more American life because politicians don’t have the nerve or the will to do what’s necessary to secure the homeland,” she said. Because “our safety is their primary responsibility.”

Last year, on the anniversary of 9/11, Ingraham complained that our government still hasn’t “taken some of the most commonsense steps here at home to really make us safer.”

These arguments aren’t remotely consistent with her position on our government’s responsibility to prevent the loss of lives due to a threat that’s clearly much greater — the spread of COVID-19.

In February, she accused “Democrats and their media cronies” of “weaponizing fear” of the virus “to improve their chances against Trump in November.”

At the end of April, she said they’ve “been selling panic for weeks and weeks and weeks” and masks are a “constant reminder” to make “you think you are not safe.”

On June 12, after reporting that there was only one hospitalization among the 1,600 new cases in Arizona, she argued the media should have lost “all credibility over the COVID fearmongering.” However, two weeks later, there were 134 new hospitalizations in a single day, bringing the statewide total to 2,270. A week after that it went over 3,000.

Ingraham’s creditability on the matter should be put to rest. She has none.

And those that still trust her warnings about foreign terrorists ought to recognize they’ve been bigger pawns in the politics of fearmongering than the vast majority of Americans who want everyone to wear masks.

Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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