A week ago, federal health officials warned that the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. was inevitable, and that Americans should prepare for the possible shutdown of schools and other institutions. President Trump then contradicted those warnings, saying the virus was “very well under control in our country.” A few days later, he cast concern about the virus as a political ploy by Democrats, calling it “their new hoax.”
Since then, identified cases in the U.S. have risen from 57 to more than 200 in 18 states, and 12 people have died.* Most of the deaths were in Washington state, where the virus appears to have been circulating locally for weeks undetected. The confirmed case of a Florida man who had not traveled to or had contact with anyone from the hardest-hit countries indicates that COVID-19 may also be spreading locally in that state, and Florida officials declared a public health emergency.
At press time, there were no known cases of COVID-19 in Virginia, and health officials in Charlottesville say long-standing preparations for other flu pandemics have well positioned them to handle any potential outbreak. At the moment, the biggest local impact may be felt in the form of cancelled travel plans: UVA has asked its students studying abroad in Italy to return home and WorldStrides has relocated planned programs in some affected countries.
Meanwhile, as Virginia primary voters head to the polls, it’s a good time to see painter Robert Shetterly’s “Americans Who Tell the Truth” exhibit, now on view at several sites around town.
“So much depends on an individual who refuses to give in,” says Shetterly, who has painted nearly 250 portraits of truth-tellers, and recently added local residents Zyahna Bryant, John Hunter, and David Swanson to the series.
Perhaps Dr. Anthony Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has steered the country through numerous disease outbreaks, should be next on Shetterly’s list.
“You don’t want to go to war with a president,” Fauci told news website POLITICO on Friday, explaining his refusal to downplay the potential impact of coronavirus. “But you got to walk the fine balance of making sure you continue to tell the truth.”
*Updated 3/5 to reflect the rapidly increasing number of identified cases and deaths; live updates here.