Politics has infected discussion of the novel coronavirus, especially on social media. When Democratic Denver City Councilwoman Candi CeBaca expressed solidarity with this tweet: “For the record, if I do get the coronavirus I’m attending every MAGA rally I can,” she received a swift rebuke. “The depths to which Democrats are sinking to politicize coronavirus is disgusting,” Republican National Committee Rapid Response Director Steve Guest responded. CdeBaca clarified her comment as sarcasm.
Given today’s polarized political climate and lack of impulse control on social media, it’s easy to assume that this is the first time politics has tainted a public health crisis. In fact, politics infected America’s first epidemic and cost lives.
“The yellow fever increases. The week before last about three a day died. This last week about 11 a day have died; consequently, from known data about 33 a day are taken, and there are about 330 patients under it,” Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson wrote to Congressman James Madison on Sept. 8, 1793, about the yellow fever epidemic infecting America’s capital city of Philadelphia. “They are much scattered through the town, and it is the opinion of the physicians that there is no possibility of stopping it, They agree it is a non-descript disease.”
Jefferson’s political rival and fellow cabinet member, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, had come down with it.