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Hydroxychloroquine.

Remember that word?


Unless you’re studying for a spelling bee, it probably doesn’t ring a bell.


But when you hear the much-bandied about question in the current political arena, “are you better off than you were four years ago?”, that bell ought to ring. Because that’s where we were four years ago.


There’s a human tendency to put a pleasant gauze over the past, emphasizing the positive and minimizing the negative. So, when considering the lay of the land four years ago, one might vaguely recall a couple of contact points with the economy, the price of gas and price of food, were better.


One might not recall that four years ago employment fell by a combined 22.4 million in March and April. That decline of 15 percent was unprecedented in modern times. (The decline in the Great Recession of 2007 was 6 percent). That’s because four years ago we found ourselves in the grip of the COVID pandemic.

 

 

That’s where hydroxychloroquine comes in.


The Trump administration's chaotic response to the pandemic included promoting unproven treatments like hydroxychloroquine and even suggesting the use of bleach as a potential cure. Misinformation spread like wildfire, leading to confusion and fear among the populace.


There was plenty of magical thinking – that it would go away with the coming of warmer weather, etc. There was plenty of pin-the-blame game, with Trump and media allies insisting that COVID be called the Wuhan Virus or Chinese Virus. Above all there was a push to reopen the economy, despite the fact that ramped up testing and other safety measures weren’t in place. There was also a push to split a frightened populace even further, with Trump delivering tweets railing against lockdown measures in the states with Democratic governors – Virginia, Michigan and Minnesota all got the “LIBERATE!” treatment. 

Misinformation was running rampant and conspiracy theorists were having a field day.

Over in Britain, they were burning cell towers, as somehow someone came up with the idea 5G technology was spreading COVID.



Similarly, messages coming from the White House briefings were all over the board. When masking was recommended Trump watered down the message by saying the recommendation wasn’t really a mandate and he couldn’t see himself wearing one.

As to hydroxychloroquine, well, it’s been around as a malaria treatment for decades. Somehow it got touted as a COVID treatment, and Trump picked up on it. On several other treatments that weren’t really treatments as well.

 

 A paper called the “Impact of Trump's Promotion of Unproven COVID-19 Treatments and Subsequent Internet Trends: Observational Study’’ at the National Library of Medicine reported “From March 1 to April 30, 2020, Donald J. Trump made 11 tweets about unproven therapies and mentioned these therapies 65 times in White House briefings, especially touting hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. These tweets had an impression reach of 300% above Donald J Trump’s average. Following these tweets, at least 2% of airtime on conservative networks for treatment modalities like azithromycin and continuous mentions of such treatments were observed on stations like Fox News. Google searches and purchases increased following his first press conference on March 19, 2020, and increased again following his tweets on March 21, 2020. The same is true for medications on Amazon, with purchases for medicine substitutes, such as hydroxychloroquine, increasing by 200%.”

During White House briefings Trump mentioned hydroxychloroquine 37 times in total; chloroquine 12 times; azithromycin 8 times; and remdesivir 8 times in total.


April of 2000 also gave us the tale of Trump and bleach. Contrary to popular belief, Trump didn’t actually say folks should drink bleach, but he did muse about whether disinfectants could be used to treat coronavirus infections inside human bodies. It was close enough to saying “drink this stuff’’ that Lysol issued a statement essentially saying “don’t do that.’’

Trump’s comments came after Department of Homeland undersecretary for science and technology William Bryan presented a study finding sun exposure and cleaning agents like bleach could kill the covid virus on surfaces. 


"So, supposedly we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light,” Trump said, “and I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. (To Bryan) And I think you said you’re going to test that, too. Sounds interesting, right?"


Four years ago, we were frightened of losing our jobs and our lives. Against this backdrop people were looking to their government for leadership. 

That’s what we were getting.


Despite the challenges we faced four years ago, it's hard to deny that things have improved since then. The current situation may not be perfect, but we are in a much better place today than we were back then.


Jim Buchanan is a longtime mountain journalist and author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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