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Distrust Hurts U.S. Efforts To Stop Coronavirus, Former Obama Health Official Says

Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Why are coronavirus cases so much higher here in the United States than other countries?

For Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama, the fundamental issue at play isn't simply a slow turnaround for virus test results or mask mandates.

He blames a widespread erosion of fundamental trust at all levels of society.

"I think we see it everywhere," Slavitt tells NPR. "We see it in the presidential briefings and the inability to trust what we hear when the president recommends a drug and we're not sure [about it]. We're used to hearing [drug recommendations] from the FDA. We're seeing it among ourselves when some people say that we should be wearing masks and we won't."

Here are excerpts from the conversation.

Why do you see this all about trust?

You take the governor of Texas or Arizona, and you see the absolute hell that New York goes through and you don't trust it, and you don't take actions that the governors of New York and Connecticut are pleading with you to take. You take historically great institutions like the [Center for Disease Control] and the [Food and Drug Administration] — which historically we looked to in times like this — to tell us whether a drug is safe or whether it's safe to go to school. And we're not sure if we can trust them any longer. ...

Where this will really come to play out in the short order is when we have a vaccine. Will enough Americans trust that this vaccine is safe and effective when they've been hearing from various parties like the president that a certain drug is safe or a certain drug is not safe and there's not one body — the great institutions that we've come to trust as being impenetrable by politics, we're not sure if they are any longer.

Who do you hold responsible for this?

Some of it is cultural. I think we were founded on principles of liberty and freedom and distrust of government. And some of that makes us who we are. But that also means that we need really good leadership in times like these because we have to do difficult things. Nobody asked for this virus, and we're all going to be inconvenienced by it one way or another. And so it takes an enormous amount of leadership to tell people that we've got to make some sacrifices.

Listen to the full interview at the audio link above.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.