As the United States braces for the seemingly inevitable spread of the coronavirus in its communities – something the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned the country to prepare for – President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced that his vice president, Mike Pence will be leading the administration’s response to a potential outbreak.
“Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump told reporters. “We’re ready to adapt and ready to do whatever we have to as the disease spreads, if it spreads.”
However, not everyone is pleased with Trump’s response to the illness, least of all Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), who slammed the choice of putting Pence in charge as “utterly irresponsible.”
“Mike Pence literally does not believe in science,” the congresswoman, fondly known as AOC tweeted out following the news. “This decision could cost people their lives. Pence’s past decisions already have.”
She was, of course, referring to Pence’s record as Governor of Indiana, where his ignoring of public health advice enabled one of the worst HIV outbreaks in Indiana’s history.
“He is not a medical doctor. He is not a health expert. He is not qualified nor positioned in any way to protect our public health,” Ocasio Cortez added.
And Pence has faced scrutiny for his handling of the HIV crisis in his state in 2015, which included his opposition to authorizing a needle-exchange program, as the Washington Post notes.
The outbreak started due to people injecting Opana, a painkiller, with shared needles. However, when health experts pushed for the distribution of clean needles, Pence pushed back.
“I don’t believe effective anti-drug policy involves handing out drug paraphernalia,” he told the Indianapolis Star back in 2015 adding that if the legislature sent him a needle exchange program bill he would veto it.
Pence finally agreed to a temporary needle exchange program after more than 70 people were confirmed to be HIV-positive.