What Saturday Night Live Can Teach America About Coronavirus Prevention

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    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23: comedian/ actor Chris Rock attends 'The Week Of' New York Premiere at AMC Loews Lincoln Square on April 23, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic) FILMMAGIC

    When Saturday Night Live (SNL) returned to air after a four-month hiatus on October 3, host Chris Rock’s message was more in line with public health experts than with the president: America should not give up on vanquishing the coronavirus.

    Like every news broadcast, SNL had to rapidly adjust to the news of Donald Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis and hospitalization. 

    “A lot of people on both sides are saying there’s nothing funny about Trump being hospitalized with coronavirus even though he mocked the safety precautions for the coronavirus,” said Michael Che, cohost of SNL’s Weekend Update news parody segment. But, he argued, “If you were constructing a joke, this has all the ingredients you need.”

    Nancy Pelosi said Friday that she hoped Trump’s diagnosis would lead him to take a more serious public stance toward preventive measures like mask wearing and social distancing.

    Not all GOP officials seem to be heeding that call.

    “If the virus can get into the Oval [Office], into the body of the president, there is no place that it can not possibly infect one of our fellow Americans,” Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, told Tucker Carlson on Fox Friday evening. The implication, according to the congressman, is that since the President got infected, no one can be safe, and therefore, we may as well reopen the economy altogether. 

    Public health experts disagree with this interpretation. 

    “The Oval Office violated every public health precaution we’ve been telling Americans to take for the past seven months,” said Megan Ranney, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown University and cofounder of GetUsPPE.org. “Trump should not be in the position that he’s in.”

    Only half of Republicans in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll agreed that had Trump taken the virus more seriously, he likely would not have been infected.

    Jay Bhatt, D.O., internal medicine physician and adjunct faculty at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health, argues more could have been done to protect the president. 

    “Had precautions been taken regarding the Rose Garden Ceremony, during debate prep, and throughout the White House with the use of measures we know work such as masking, we would likely not be having the conversation of a superspreader event ignited by the administration,” Bhatt said. “This virus doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t have borders and can transmit quickly and easily.” That said, he argued, preventive measures have saved thousands of lives. 

    Ranney was also clear that Trump’s infection was preventable. If catching coronavirus were inevitable, she said, “Every healthcare worker who has been treating Covid patients would have been infected already.” Instead, she said, they routinely wear masks, religiously wash their hands, and avoid crowded spaces, particularly indoors.

    common refrain from Donald Trump, echoed by his supporters, has been that no one could have predicted or prevented the pandemic, and that he could not have done more to stop the spread. 

    Ranney disagrees. “The science of how Covid-19 spreads is pretty clear at this point, and our best prevention measures are the same ones we used a century ago to prevent the flu,” she said. “Wear a mask, stay outside when you can, and minimize your social contacts.”  

    Evidence from around the world also suggests otherwise. Taiwan, for example, has been widely hailed for its effective pandemic response. With a population of just under 24 million, Taiwan reported just seven new cases in the past week. In the same period, at least ten GOP officials have publicly disclosed that they have tested positive for Covid-19.

    Closer to home, examples of successful containment strategies exist. SNL’s Colin Jost noted the success of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in preventing infections among professional basketball players during the truncated professional basketball season.

    “He somehow built a bubble that is better than anything our government could come up with,” Jost joked. “Instead of stopping the bubble when the season ends, why don’t they just slowly expand it until it covers the whole country?”

    That might not be a bad idea. 

    “More than seven million Americans have been infected and more than 200,000 have died,” said Ranney. “That means there are well over 300 million Americans who have not been infected yet and it’s not too late for any of us. No family should have to go through the stress and terror of having a loved one sick with Covid.”

    Rock sounded a similar note on Saturday night. 

    “We can lick this,” Rock said. “We can beat this if we all work together.”

    Forbes

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