Earlier this week, we got a very loud reminder that state elections matter at least as much as federal elections. A Republican state representative in Georgia who happens to be the wife of a former member of Donald Trump’s cabinet had a shockingly degrading suggestion for how to handle those suffering from HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. As far as she’s concerned, they’d be better off in quarantine–if they don’t die off faster.
Betty Price is the wife of former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. She’s also a politician in her own right, representing the state’s 48th state house district, which includes large slices of Roswell, Alpharetta and other areas in northern Fulton County. On Tuesday, during a state house hearing on access to health care, Price was asked what could legally be done to limit the spread of HIV in Georgia.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution got a clip of Price’s response; watch it here.
Price was dismayed at how many “carriers” were in the population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia had 50,000 people with HIV in 2014, and a year later had more new diagnoses than any other state.
Price mused that there were so many carriers because HIV patients are living longer.
“Whereas in the past, they died more readily, and at that point they’re not posing a risk. So we’ve got a huge population posing a risk if they’re not in treatment.”
As alarming as that sounded, one of her solutions was even more so.
“I don’t want to say the quarantine word—but I guess I just said it. Is there an ability, since I would guess that public dollars are expended heavily in prophylaxis and treatment of this condition, so we have a public interest in curtailing the spread? What would you advise, and are there any methods, legally, that we could do to curtail the spread?”
This sort of talk harkens back to the 1980s, during the worst of the HIV scare. So it comes as no surprise that the criticism came fast and hard. Jeff Graham of Equality Georgia told the health news site STAT News that Price’s comments were “incredibly disturbing” and “very troubling,” and served as a sobering reminder that there was still a stigma surrounding HIV.
GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis was equally outraged, saying it was “reprehensible” for an elected official to talk this way–especially one who is herself a doctor. So was CNN legal analyst Mel Robbins, who said Price’s comments showed that she “clearly knows nothing” about HIV or AIDS.
In a statement issued on Saturday, Price said that she had merely made “a provocative and rhetorical comment” that had been “taken completely out of context.” She claimed to oppose quarantining patients, but only wanted to “light a fire” under those responsible for making public health policy.
It would be tempting to cut Price some slack. But you would think that a doctor, of all people, would understand that even hinting at a quarantine, even in a rhetorical manner, is a wrongheaded move. Surely a woman who was smart enough to get her doctorate from Canada’s McGill University, one of the Canadian equivalents of an Ivy League school, could have chosen her words better.
While Price at least had the decency to clarify her remarks, the only acceptable response is a full apology. In the meantime, any Democrats in northern Fulton County should be at least looking at this seat. Like most of northern Fulton County, this district has historically been reliably Republican. However, it made a dramatic transition from red to purple in the 2016 election. Donald Trump only won it by 688 votes out of almost 23,200 votes cast.
On paper, this suggests that if area Democrats can get their act together, they can hold Price to account in the most meaningful way possible–by voting her out.
(featured image courtesy Georgia House of Representatives via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)