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Should politicians or doctors be making policy on COVID-19?

Dr. Anthony Fauci. (Getty Images)

Who to listen to and what constitutes an expert has been an ongoing element of coronavirus and coverage of it, with politicians and scientists sometimes saying different things. When it comes to the experts, who do we believe? Mercer Island MD Dr. Gordon Cohen joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss.

“Actually I was thinking about it, and the first question is, why should anyone listen to me?,” he joked. “I think it all has to do with your approach and outlook. So for me, I see this very much is a public health issue, and I try very hard not to let any of the political biases that have unfortunately become part of COVID-19 influence what it is I’m saying.”

“When I look at information, I try to not come up with policy opinions,” he added. “I try to look at what’s being said by the other experts and sort through the data and come up with whatever logical conclusions based on the information that’s being presented to us.”

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With regards to Dr. Scott Atlas, added to President Trump’s coronavirus task force, Dr. Cohen says it’s important to see past the politics of it.

“He’s a senior fellow with Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, but previously when he did practice medicine, he was not just a professor, but he was the chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University for about 14 years,” he said.

“A lot of the things that Dr. Atlas has been saying, people are criticizing and saying that he’s spreading bad information. Dr. Atlas was criticized by 78 of his former colleagues at Stanford for spreading falsehoods and misrepresentations of science,” Cohen added. “But I think we need to keep in mind — I actually looked this up — there’s actually 1,096 faculty members in both medicine and science at Stanford, so really, it’s a very small number of people, and I think it represents politics more than anything else.”

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With Dr. Fauci, his expertise is well documented, but his recommendations don’t always consider the greater societal implications.

“As far as Dr. Fauci goes, he’s a brilliant guy. He’s been a leader. He’s the country’s lead infectious disease specialist, and I think a lot of the things he says are correct … Unfortunately, being an evidence-based scientist doesn’t mean that you have necessarily taken into account all the implications from a financial, or economic, or even societal point of view in terms of other secondary and unintended consequences,” Cohen said.

As Dave noted, some Republicans have said that in fact that politicians do have to be the ones to make these decisions, because the medical experts know the science, but it’s the politicians who have to balance the impacts of, for instance, keeping schools closed down or keeping a business closed for this long.

“I actually do agree with that … I just don’t think we can close down society in its entirety and expect people to be healthy and happy,” Cohen said. “I think the implications are going to last for decades into the future. I think there needs to be some sort of a structured plan.”

“I think we have to have some degree of normalcy in order for us to exist, because look what’s happening,” he continued. “The depression rate in the country has tripled. The suicide rate has gone up. I mean, people are negatively reacting to the shutdown, so we have to find that balance between medicine and existing in society. And I don’t think this should be a political issue. I think it’s something that everybody should be talking about and working on together.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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