As more cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are detected within the United States, it is imperative that proven, science-based response efforts are well coordinated by experienced public health officials at every level of government in order to effectively contain the outbreak.

At FBB, we recognize that no disaster is "natural," nor an "act of god." While a natural event may create a hazard, it is human preparedness that determines whether the hazard becomes a disaster. One of the most essential elements in preventing an unmanageable crisis is maintaining an appropriate level of emergency readiness. By firing the U.S. pandemic response team in 2018, and now appointing Vice President Pence as lead in the coronavirus response, President Trump’s administration is setting the stage for a humanitarian crisis across the United States. This response will jeopardize lives, especially those in low-income communities who may not have access to health care.

Pence has a distressing history of putting personal religious beliefs before public health recommendations. During his time as Indiana governor, Pence’s religious ideology led to a delayed response to what ultimately became the largest HIV outbreak in the state’s history while he prayed over needle exchange programs rather than heeding advice from the Center for Disease Control that the state must respond immediately, or acknowledging the mountains of data supporting the efficacy of those programs. Pence also advocated for federal dollars intended for HIV/AIDS healthcare treatment to be diverted to organizations that counsel LGBTQ people on changing their sexual identity—another clear instance of personal religious values trumping sound public health policy. Further, Pence publicly supported George W. Bush’s $1.42B abstinence and monogamy program to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, proclaiming that these ‘timeless values’ are the ‘cure for what ails the families of Africa.’ This program of ideological colonialism was later shown to have had no effect on stopping the spread of AIDS.

In light of Pence’s dismal track record of subordinating good science and sound, proven health policy to his own personal religious beliefs, his position in overseeing COVID-19 efforts is both inappropriate and dangerous—and could lead to preventable illness, death and economic stagnation. We urge US residents, health professionals, and other stakeholders to join us in calling on the Trump administration to prioritize science and strategy above personal religious beliefs.

Foundation Beyond Belief will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore