The Cronavirus: Things the US Has Got Wrong, and Got Right

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(— April 9, 2020) — 

It has been more than two months since the first case of the corona virus has been diagnosed in the United States. Since then, the epidemic has spread across the country, with currently 435,000 cases and more than 14,500 deaths, and the numbers are increasing every day.

This is what Americans did wrong and what they did right according to Professor Jeffrey Levi, a professor of health policy and management at George Washington University, the BBC reports.



Medical supply shortages
Masks, gloves, protective clothing, and ventilators – all of these are essential during a pandemic, and all are currently in short supply. Doctors and hospitals across the country, and especially in the areas most severely affected by the pandemic, are desperately in need of basic labor to help those infected with the virus and protect healthcare professionals.

The lack of proper equipment has led healthcare professionals to reuse existing clothing or even make their own improvised protection. A ventilator shortage has worried federal officials that they will soon have to perform medical triage when deciding on who will get attached to a life support machine, and who gets left without the necessary treatment.

Testing delays
According to Professor Levi, increased early-stage testing – as done by countries like South Korea and Singapore – is crucial to controlling the outbreak of virus epidemics such as COVID-19. The inability of the US government to do this was a crucial failure from which all the subsequent complications stemmed in an unstoppable domino effect.

“All of the pandemic response is dependent on situational awareness – knowing what is going on and where it is happening,” Professor Levi said.

Without that information, public health officials are practically blind, not knowing where the next viral hotspot will emerge. Extensive testing means infected patients can identify and isolate themselves, limiting the need for comprehensive national self-isolation orders that have frozen the U.S. economy and led to millions of unemployed workers.

Political squabbles

In January and February, as the virus destroyed Chinese factories and began massacring lives in Italy, Donald Trump mitigated the threat to the United States.

After the first few U.S. cases, Trump and other officials in his administration said the situation was under control and would disappear in the summer, “like a miracle”.

Social-distancing failures
Across the country, there have been numerous examples of Americans disregarding appeals from public health authorities to avoid close social contacts, sometimes aided by local and state officials who hesitated to order businesses to stop working and citizens to isolate themselves.

“If I get corona, I get corona,” one Florida beachgoer told CBS News in mid-March. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.”

Decisions like those diminished efforts of authorities to contain the spread of the disease throughout the nation.



Stimulus Goliath

Last week the US Congress passed a $2tn coronavirus relief bill.

It involves direct cash payments to many Americans, expanded support for the unemployed, assistance to the states, health care and other public services, assistance to the hardest-hit industries, and loans to small and medium-sized businesses that could be forgiven if they avoided layoffs.

Research firepower
The virus outbreak in the U.S. showed the strength of the nation’s research and drug development infrastructure.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers and medical researchers are rushing to find out as much as possible about this virus in an attempt to devise new strategies to combat the pandemic.

One American company has developed a new quick test that can identify virus carriers almost instantaneously.

State leadership
The U.S. federal system of government, which delegates broad power to individual states, has proven both a blessing and a curse. In good times, it allows local leaders to experiment with various public policy solutions separately, testing best practices that can then be implemented across the entire country.

In the event of a deadly pandemic, however, a varying mixture of responses can be inappropriate. Delegating powers resulted in deaths that could have been avoided as well as economic setbacks.
“Every governor is making decisions on their own,” Levi says. “Some are making good decisions; some are not.”

“We are only as protected as the weakest states,” Levi warns.