July 16, 2020
IntelBrief: The United States Receives a Failing Grade for its COVID-19 Response
If countries received letter grades assessing their respective performance in responding to the coronavirus crisis, New Zealand would likely receive an ‘A.’ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently declared her country has reported no new COVID-19 cases for close to two straight weeks, with nearly all restrictions lifted. Germany, a country of 83 million people located in the heart of Europe, has also been successful in combating the virus and securing nationwide buy-in for the restrictive measures necessary to help counter COVID-19. By contrast, even by the most generous grading curve, the United States would still receive a failing grade of ‘F.’ Consider the following: the state of Florida, with a population of roughly 21.5 million people, reported 15,300 cases in one day, while South Korea, a country of approximately 52 million people, has reported just over 13,000 cases in total. So what has allowed countries like New Zealand, Germany, and South Korea to succeed in dealing with the virus, while one of the world’s wealthiest and most technologically advanced countries flounders, as its citizens die (nearly 140,000 dead) and its economy is crippled? In short, the most obvious difference is the glaring lack of leadership. As the number of COVID-19 infections continue to soar in the United States, reaching daily record highs in numerous states, the Trump administration is reluctant to address the concerns posed by the spread of the virus. The President seems frustrated with the rising number of cases, yet has failed to assuage the nation and allay growing concerns by laying out a coherent strategy on how to mitigate the destabilizing effects of COVID-19.
The federal mishandling of the ongoing pandemic is an alarming case study in failed leadership. The administration has continuously downplayed the severity of the public health crisis and has struggled to coordinate an effective national response. From the beginning, the President has eschewed responsibility and instead allowed states and governors to determine the best course of action, even while haranguing some states to lift restrictions prematurely. Too often, he directly engages in spreading known conspiracies about the virus, directly damaging the credibility of the U.S. government and contradicting the scientists and health professionals whose voices are most critical during a global pandemic. President Trump and several high-ranking administration officials regularly disparage the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and frequently blame China for allowing the virus to spread. Prominent officials in the Trump administration continue to refer to COVID-19 as either the ‘Wuhan virus,’ the ‘China virus,’ or the ‘China flu’ even as there has been a massive spike in hate crimes against Asians and Asian-Americans in the United States.
The administration has marginalized experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, and openly mused about the possibility of injecting disinfectants as a potential cure to COVID-19, only walking back the comment as a ‘sarcasm’ following worldwide opprobrium over the remark. Individuals and groups across the political spectrum have politicized mask-wearing, which has devolved into name-calling and virtue signaling on social media. On July 12th, President Trump retweeted a supporter’s tweet that read ‘Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most that we are told to trust.’ As the administration becomes consumed by preparing for the November 2020 elections, there is little chance that the U.S. federal government will spearhead or organize a coordinated effort to address this national crisis. U.S. officials continue to be unwilling to exert global leadership during the pandemic, which is unsurprising when one examines what has occurred domestically. American citizens are now banned from traveling to many other countries, including several in Europe, for fear that American tourists will bring the disease with them. Many European countries, including Italy - one of the countries most hard hit initially by the virus – have proven able to control COVID-19’s spread.
In the United States, unemployment has reached record numbers, even as the President boasts about the stock market. Federal financial aid to the millions of Americans out of work is set to expire in two weeks. The economy is again contracting as cities and states mandate partial lockdown because too many refuse to wear masks and limit gatherings to help their communities. Many of the businesses that were struggling in the spring may not survive throughout the summer. The health care systems in various states are being stressed in ways that the experts predicted months ago without a national effort to curb the spread of the virus. The death toll, which is a lagging indicator of the rising rates of infections, will continue to climb substantially. The coming months will be among the most difficult in recent memory and will be made ever worse if the White House continues to downplay the severity of the challenge or play politics with citizens’ health. Seeking to deliberately divide the American public for political gain—fueled by open distrust and disdain for science-based policies and community-based health measures—will ensure the United States continues to fail the coronavirus test, with disastrous consequences for millions of Americans.
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