As Murray State University grapples with how to safely reopen for the fall semester in the midst of a global pandemic, the institution’s chief medical officer is warning against the politicization of the coronavirus.
Dr. Robert Hughes said the United States is failing in virus containment efforts because of citizens and leaders treating COVID-19 as a political issue. He pointed to Germany, where he said Chancellor Angela Merkel is letting scientists take the lead, as a model for a proper response to the pandemic.
“In America, we polarized, politicized, divided and argued about all these different things that would have contained the virus,” Hughes said. “Now we’ve got so many cases out there, it’s going to be hard to get that back in the bottle.”
Hughes criticized leaders including Attorney General Daniel Cameron for seeking to dilute Governor Andy Beshear’s coronavirus-related executive orders. Cameron and other top Republicans have challenged Beshear’s orders in court, leading to some restrictions being lifted by judicial action.
“What concerns me heading into the fall is that when you see Andy Beshear come up with these recommendations or mandates and, all of the sudden, you see the attorney general side in with somebody that files a lawsuit and goes before a right-wing judge and it [Beshear’s order] gets thrown out. What good does it do to pass safety measures to protect the public only to have a court overturn it?” Hughes said
Murray State University’s “Racer Restart” initiative calls for all members of the university community to wear face masks, faithfully wash their hands and check for fever. Hughes said he doesn't believe the reopening of the university will create an outbreak of the virus in western Kentucky.
“Every single thing we can do to mitigate the risk, we’ve done. They have spared no resources to try to contain this. To [MSU President] Bob Jackson’s credit, he has been very proactive,” Hughes said.
Hughes said university leadership has worked to implement public health guidelines without regard to the political debate surrounding face masks and the reopening of the economy.
Coronavirus cases in Kentucky passed 20,600 Wednesday. Beshear also called on leaders in Frankfort and throughout the commonwealth to put aside political debate and fully embrace the mask requirement.
“It shows you how critical this facial covering requirement is,” he said. “And we have to end the silliness. Challenges to this mean the loss of lives and could send us the way of Arizona or Florida, and we don’t want that,” Beshear said.
Cameron said his challenge to the mask requirement calls into question the legality of the order itself, not the merits of wearing a face covering. Hughes and Beshear said the public health concerns make the mask order necessary to return the “curve” of coronavirus cases to a downward trajectory.
Find more information on the coronavirus pandemic in Kentucky here.