Knowing the surgeon general—Indiana postpones primary—Gov. to address the state today

Buckle up for an even longer primary.

By Adam Wren and design by Kris Davidson

TOTAL HOOSIERS TESTED FOR CORONAVIRUS: 1,494

TOTAL POSITIIVE CASES: 201*

TOTAL DEATHS: 6

DAYS UNTIL INDIANA’S PRIMARY: 71

*Results from ISDH and results submitted by private laboratories.

BREAKING: Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb will address the state on the latest developments in slowing the spread of COVID-19 today. The live address will begin at noon. You can stream here.

THE DOCTOR IS IN: Has the U.S. Surgeon General Caught a Bad Case of Trumpism?

My new piece over the weekend for The Daily Beast:

In normal times, the average American’s experience with the U.S. surgeon general amounts to reading the warnings on a packet of cigarettes or a bottle of alcohol. But in the age of the novel coronavirus, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams has become a regular presence in living rooms—and, recently, not always the most reassuring one.

On March 8, the first time many Americans saw Adams, the 45-year-old sat for an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. Adams, who holds the rank of vice admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and oversees 6,500 public health officers, explained the nature of coronavirus to Tapper as if he was one of his anesthesiology patients. But as Tapper pressed on to more political ground—whether the age of former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and President Donald Trump meant they should stop campaigning in person—Adams careened off message.

“Speaking of being at risk, the president, he sleeps less than I do, and he’s healthier than what I am,” responded Adams, 46, who cuts a trim and athletic figure and runs 5Ks.

His claim did not pass the eye test.

Back in Indiana, where Adams served as public health commissioner under then-Gov. Mike Pence during some of the state’s most tumultuous health crises, at least one former aide arched his eyebrow when he watched the interview, texting Adams to see if he was serious.

He was.

“He realized that it came off poorly, but the president’s doctor came out and said he’s on one medication,” said the friend and former aide, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of the surgeon general. “Adams is on six medications for chronic conditions—pre-diabetes, asthma, for example. From just a burden of chronic disease standpoint, it was accurate.”

....

Has Trumpism infected his own surgeon general’s brain?

“In a few sentences, that took away so much of his credibility,” said Leslie Dach, who helped run Barack Obama’s response to the Ebola crisis while at the Department of Health and Human Services. “It shows how much this president can corrupt the integrity of people when they choose to be part of his political strategy instead of doing the job they took an oath to do. To be up there in that uniform is a disgrace.”

Read more here.

INDIANA DELAYS ITS PRIMARY

Indiana became the seventh state to postpone its primary Friday in the wake of the novel coronavirus. Gov. Eric Holcomb, Secretary of State Connie Lawson, Republican Party Chair Kyle Hupfer and Democratic Party Chair John Zody argued for caution in a Statehouse press conference, pushing the date back from May 5 to June 2.

“The right of citizens to elect their leaders in a free and open election is one of the cornerstones of America. In order to balance that right with the safety of county employees, poll workers and voters, delaying Indiana’s primary election is the right move as we continue to do all we can to protect Hoosiers’ health,” said Gov. Holcomb.

THE REAX:

Democratic Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett:

“In the face of an unprecedented public health emergency, Gov. Eric Holcomb and Secretary of State Connie Lawson, with the support of both political parties, are making the right call by pushing back our primary election to June 2. I also support the option of allowing all voters to use mail-in absentee ballots for the primary election to preserve citizens' rights while protecting Hoosiers."

Republican Kelly Mitchell, a candidate for Indiana's 5th Congressional District:

“I applaud Governor Holcomb and Secretary of State Connie Lawson on working out an agreement that not only protects the fairness of our election process, but puts the health and safety of Hoosiers first. While the election date may have changed, one thing has not, my commitment to earn the vote of every 5th district Hoosier and win the Republican nomination in June 2nd.”

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston:

“In the face of an unprecedented public health emergency, Gov. Eric Holcomb and Secretary of State Connie Lawson, with the support of both political parties, are making the right call by pushing back our primary election to June 2. I also support the option of allowing all voters to use mail-in absentee ballots for the primary election to preserve citizens' rights while protecting Hoosiers.”

Good morning, and welcome to IMPORTANTVILLE. What day is it? They all bleed together now. It feels unessential to be writing about politics in the age of the novel coronavirus. And yet: Documenting how our elected leaders—and aspiring elected leaders—respond to a crisis like this is more essential than ever.

FOCUS ON THE FITH

Carl Brizzi, a candidate for the 5th District, has a coronavirus problem.

On Thursday, he became the first and—by my reporting—only Indiana candidate to fundraise off the pandemic. Nationally, I haven’t been able to find another example of a candidate using the coronavirus to raise money.

It’s a stunning move, given that National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer warned Republicans recently against fundraising off the virus.

But that’s not his only problem.

His response over the last week has been erratic, as he careened from saying the media was overreacting to saying that “China is to blame.” Here, a timeline:

MARCH 11: “Overreacting is actually what the progressive elites want. Overreacting hurts the President.”

MARCH 12: “Can’t decide what’s more dangerous the coronavirus or Democratic hypocrisy.”

MARCH 12: “The left wing media attacks every single thing Trump does. They’ve acted as willing co-conspirators along with Schiff and others in an attempt to undermine his every move. The reporting on the coronavirus is just another example of exploiting a situation in an attempt to undermine Trump. The hatred they have for our President is so beyond deranged that they are gleeful about the economic demise.”

MARCH 14:Everyone be prepared to hunker down for a bit.”

MARCH 17: “I don’t want to do anything that puts Hoosiers at risk. As such, I am calling for the postponement of Indiana's May 5th primary.”

MYERS’ MOMENT?

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Woody Myers has a new urgency about him these days. You can hear it in his voice.

On Tuesday, hours before the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee would hold a conference call with Indiana reporters to criticize the state’s slow reaction to the threat of the coronavirus, I could hear it. He seemed more lively. The sentences came more quickly. Since he announced that he would run to challenge popular incumbent Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb last year, Myers has run what you could generously describe as a lethargic campaign. He has struggled to fundraise. He hasn’t barnstormed Indiana. And he’s grasped to find some big, bold proposals to garner the kind of earned media he’ll need to raise his profile and defeat Holcomb.

How would you grade Governor Eric Holcomb’s response so far?
I believe that the administration could have done much more, much faster. I think that he has been far more reactive than proactive. This was a crisis. It’s unlike any that has befallen us in recent memory. I believe strongly that the role of the governor is to exert in all dimensions and that includes healthcare or public health. I don’t think that we’ve done a good job. The governor has left far more questions open than he’s been able to answer.

Read more here.

IMPORTANTVILLE READS

Me, Politico Magazine: “What I Learned About Coronavirus From Binge-watching 10 Hours of Virus Movies

On the first weekend of our national emergency, I self-quarantined inside my apartment. I socially distanced from hundreds of St. Patrick’s Day revelers who crowded inside a white party tent and listened to a blaring Bon Jovi cover band outside the Irish pub across the street below. Then, I binge-watched nearly 10 hours of virus entertainment, from 1995’s Outbreak to 2019’s The Hot Zone.

While I didn’t emerge as a postdoc epidemiologist, the lessons I took away, hidden in plain sight all these years, would be valuable to any member of the White House's coronavirus task force. It’s all there, from Contagion’s advocacy for social distancing to Outbreak and Hot Zone’s depictions of how interagency squabbling can slow responses. Even the epigraph of Outbreak, from the Nobel laureate and bacteriologist Joshua Lederberg, should have focused us on the gravity of a pandemic earlier: “The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is the virus.”

That’s all for today. Thank you for reading. Stay healthy.