WASHINGTON – Even as the true dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic are becoming evident, federal officials are under orders to repeat talking points that minimize public health risks and extol the Trump White House, according to mandatory “Talking Points” posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The information in these Talking Points may put both the public and federal employees at greater risk of infection.
The Interior Department issued “Coronavirus Talking Points” in a document dated March 11th and distributed this past week to senior Interior officials. The Interior Department is responsible for parks, refuges, and other lands covering roughly one-fifth of the U.S. The Talking Points downplay risks for the pandemic and dispense advise contrary to health warnings, such as—
- Repeatedly declaring “the threat to the American public today remains low” and that “Americans don’t need to change their day-to-day lives”;
- Minimizing risks to young adults by stating “In South Korea, no one under age 30 has died from Coronavirus” (emphasis in original); and
- As states are issuing self-quarantine orders and banning large gatherings, this document says: “If there is an event tomorrow in a place where there is no community spread, I think the judgment to have it may be a good judgment.”
“These official Talking Points highlight why the federal pandemic response has been a debacle,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, noting that officials are supposed to follow this guidance in responding to queries from the media, the public, and their own employees.
At the same time, the Talking Points heap praise on President Trump stating that –
- “President Trump having delivered the best economy in modern history has the tools and knows the tools to keep this economy going”; and
- “The President has directed the White House Task Force to take all steps to ensure the health and well-being of the American people and we are well-prepared.” (emphasis in original)
“In the past week, Trump has recognized the gravity of the situation,” added Whitehouse. “However, until now, he has minimized the threats of the coronavirus and left the nation unprepared for this pandemic.”
For the past year, PEER has been in federal court seeking to force the Federal Emergency Management Agency to release the latest version of our Strategic National Risk Assessment, the analytic tool designed to guide decision-making on pandemics, civil defense, and related matters. The absence of this Assessment deprives lawmakers and the public with objective quantification on the nature and scope of the risks we currently face.