Yesterday, President Donald Trump named Vice President Mike Pence as the official in charge of the U.S. government response to the coronavirus, the contagious respiratory illness that has already killed and hospitalized thousands worldwide.
But while Pence served as governor of Indiana from 2013 to 2017, his home state had the worst HIV outbreak in its history, partly worsened by his prior leadership. This fact has made many people doubt Pence’s ability to effectively fight what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control are calling an “inevitable” coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.
In a public appearance in the White House briefing room yesterday, Trump said, “I’m going to be putting our vice president, Mike Pence, in charge. And Mike will be working with the professionals. Mike is going to be in charge, and Mike will report back to me… He’s got a certain talent for this.”
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Here are clips of Trump discussing the coronavirus and naming Pence as the head of U.S. outbreak efforts:
Trump announces that Mike Pence will be his coronavirus czar pic.twitter.com/ika9XERoRo
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 26, 2020
But Pence’s mismanagement of an Indiana HIV epidemic suggest he may be a poor choice to take decisive steps to stop the coronavirus nationwide.
During his time in as governor, Scott County’s only HIV testing center closed due to funding cuts, leaving 24,000 county residents with no place to get tested. The county had a high rate of intravenous drug users and one-fifth of its residents living in poverty, causing an HIV outbreak to occur in 2015 as the country reported 20 new cases of HIV each week.
Pence was governor at the time. Though the outbreak was identified in January 2015, it wasn’t until April that Pence finally gave up his moral opposition to needle exchange programs (which he believed encouraged drug use) and allowed Scott County to start a temporary needle exchange, something that HIV experts had long recommended as the key way to stop the epidemic.
Around 200 new cases occurred before the outbreak was contained.
This morning Fox News contributor Jessica Tarlov criticized Pence, saying, “Mike Pence is not a scientist, he’s not a doctor, he’s not someone who believes really in science. And I don’t believe that he should be in charge of this of anywhere near the forefront and that is a big concern.”
Here’s a clip of Tarlov’s comment:
Earlier this week, Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar refused to promise that a coronavirus vaccine would be affordable to all people if an outbreak started in the United States.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Mike Pence was in the Indiana legislature at the time of the HIV outbreak in Scott County. We regret the error.