For the sake of public health, keep the politics out of science

We cannot allow science and public health to become just another part of the culture wars.

Wearing a mask in public as COVID-19 continues to kill thousands of Americans is about helping to protect our friends, family and neighbors. It’s not virtue signally, and it’s not the same as wearing a Planned Parenthood t-shirt or a MAGA red hat.

It’s a scientifically sound way to help slow the spread of coronavirus and help our communities and our business to re-open.

Last week, President Donald Trump visited Maine and toured a Guilford company, Puritan Medical Products, that makes cotton swabs that are critical to testing for COVID-19. There’s no question that the visit was good for Puritan and exciting for many of the people who work there and for those who live in Guilford.

But during the visit to the company – which makes medical supplies that are in high demand and short supply – the president refused to wear a mask. He’s refused to wear one all along, even as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended it.

President Donald Trump holds a medical swab near his nose as he tours Puritan Medical Products, a medical swab manufacturer, on Friday in Guilford. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

As USA Today and the Bangor Daily News reported, all the swabs made the day of the president’s visit and those that were used as a prop for his remarks had to be thrown away.

The president’s photo op, and his ongoing refusal to listen to what doctors and scientists have to say, put the country just a little bit farther behind in the fight against COVID-19.

The president could have easily worn a mask for the tour or delivered his remarks away from the actual facility, but alas he was more dedicated to the politics of the moment than the science.

“Masks not only will control the pandemic, but it’s also a matter of personal responsibility. You shouldn’t be spreading it yourself. That’s the danger. You’re endangering other people,” US Sen. Angus King told USA Today. Referring to video taken of Trump’s tour, King added, “You see the shots: everybody else has a mask on. It’s a terrible disservice to the country to have made wearing a mask some kind of a political statement.”

From denying climate change to hocking questionable treatment for COVID-19 to rolling back protections of an ocean national monument, Trump ignores science and instead tries to create an alternate reality of his own making – with help from a chorus of right-wing co-conspirators from talk radio and Fox News.

When politicians turn their back on science because they believe it will help them in the next election, they are undermining our country’s history of innovation and the scientific exploration that has led to incredible medical discovers.

As Time magazine points out, there are a lot of similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and the polio epidemic of 1916.

A little more than 100 years ago, families were terrified of the disease and its rampage. They took precautions, like physical distancing, and they fell for snake oil salesmen trying to make a buck with mystery cures that weren’t.

It took 39 years, but it was science and Dr. Jonas Salk that ultimately delivered a vaccine for polio.

As Jeffrey Kluger, the author of the Times story, closed his article: “But science — science presses ahead, and in our impatient 21st century, that’s something for which we should be deeply grateful.”

We don’t know how long it will take to develop an effective vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, but the only way it’s going to happen is if politicians end this dangerous practice of making science partisan.

As we head into a July 14 primary and then later this year the November general election, it’s critical that voters take a look at the candidates and only support those who are willing and able to put petty politics aside – particularly when it comes to public health, science and innovation.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at