AreaS member Robert Lewis Mikkelsen gives an update about the corona virus crisis in the USA. His text is published online by Cappelen Damm and is an update of the textbook “Access to English: Social Studies.” Read the article online here.
Over the past weeks, the world has watched in disbelief as the corona virus has swept across the United States at a rate and scale exceeding that of any other nation in the world. America’s handling of the crisis stands in stark contrast to its great global rival, China, which managed to contain the disease in the course of those very same weeks. How could it be? America is the world’s richest and most powerful country and has extensive and up-to-date health facilities. Why was it not better prepared? What price will it have to pay?
This article will briefly examine some of the causes for the situation in which the USA now finds itself. Some are specific to the present situation. Others reflect more basic aspects of American society.
There can be little doubt that one of the primary reasons for the present disastrous conditions found in the United States may be found in lost opportunities to prepare the country for the coming of the outbreaks of the corona virus in March. Virtually all public health officials agree that if the Federal government had taken some of the following basic steps in January and February, it would have reduced the number of sick and dying in the country today. These include:
1) Telling citizens to socially distance themselves to break the chain of infection.
2) Increasing the production of medical equipment like protective clothing and ventilators.
3) Increasing the use of testing to determine the actual number of cases in the population.
4) Increasing the number of hospital beds and qualified staff before the predicted surge in cases. (Source 12)
The fact that these actions were not taken during the first two months of the year can be laid squarely at the door of the sitting American President, Donald Trump. Trump repeatedly denied the danger that the virus posed, ignoring the advice of his scientific advisors. Here are a sample of statements he made during those critical months:
January 22 – “We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
February 19 – “I think the numbers are going to get progressively better as we go along.”
March 10 – “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
When finally forced to acknowledge the severity of the situation by declaring a National Emergency in mid-March, he doubled back on himself the following week, suggesting that the end of the crisis could come as early as during Easter, when the churches “could be packed” for religious services. That turned out to be fatally wrong. (Sources 17, 21)
The mixed messages from the Federal government left the public confused about what was the proper response to the crisis, personally and politically. That allowed the deep divisions between Republicans and Democrats in the country to be drawn into the problem. For example, in late March conservative Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to believe the coverage of the corona virus was exaggerated in the “liberal” new media. Rather, the great majority (75%) of Republicans said they trusted the information coming from President Donald Trump – in contrast to only 8% of Democrats. When it came to opinions of how Trump was handling the crisis in general, the gap was even larger, with 94% of Republicans approving of his actions compared to only 27% of Democrats. (Source 19)
These political divisions have had practical consequences on the ground. Democrats tend to be found in large cities like New York, where the virus can easily spread. Republicans tend to live in more rural areas, which have not been hit as quickly. Populous states with large urban centers like New York, Illinois and California adopted strict restrictive practices at an early date, closing down businesses, theaters, sporting events, etc. and asking people to remain indoors whenever possible. Rural states lagged behind in adopting such measures. As late as March 30th, 20 states still had not adopted statewide “stay at home” orders. Given the fact that there is freedom of movement among the 50 American states, this meant that the infection could not be contained by individual state measures, spreading easily from Democratic “Blue States” to Republican “Red States” and back again (Sources 3,19).
In Need of Care
The corona virus has also highlighted the lack of a national health service in the USA. Unlike most European nations, health services are run by state and local governments in America – not by the central government in Washington. That means there is an enormous difference in the quality and scope of care between the individual 50 states. In 2010, the Democrats under President Barack Obama did manage to pass The Affordable Health Care Act (popularly known as Obamacare). It gave millions of Americans health insurance for the first time, but it worked through the states. The Federal government did not replace them as primary care giver. In addition, since 2010, Republicans have bitterly opposed establishing Obamacare in many of America’s “Red” states, creating even larger differences. Finally, about 44 million Americans were not covered by Obamacare or any form of health insurance when the virus hit. They could not afford to be either tested or treated for the disease and made up a source of potential infection of unknown depth. (Source 22)
Lacking Federal leadership to coordinate a national response, state health facilities were thrown on their own resources. This led to further friction, both between the states and between the states and the Federal government. States were forced into a bidding war among themselves as they scrambled to get scarce medical materials like protective clothing and ventilators. In the state of New York – the hardest hit by the virus – Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo complained bitterly that “It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator…You now literally will have a company call you up and say, ‘Well, California just outbid you.’” Others, like Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, complained that his state was “flying blind” because of a national lack of corona virus test kits. When told that President Trump had suggested that the lack of test kits was no longer a problem, he simply said, “Yeah, that’s just not true.” It was conditions like these that led Democratic Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut to lament, “We are on our own.” (Source 13)
The Present and Future
As this is written, there are 587.173 cases of corona virus in the United States and rising. This is by far the largest number of any nation in the world. To date, 23.644 have died of the disease. Almost half of these were in New York, but other hot spots have sprung up around the nation adding to this number. Estimates vary as to how many will die before the end of this wave of the epidemic (it may return – no one knows). On March 31st, Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who is coordinating the White House response to the corona virus, forecast that it could kill between 100.000 to 240.000 Americans, despite social distancing measures around the nation that have closed schools, banned large gatherings, limited travel and forced people to stay in their homes. On April 8th,, those numbers were revised downwards to between 64.000 to 100.000 as restrictive measures seem to be having a greater effect. But in truth, nobody can really say at this point. Too little is known about the disease, how many people have it or how far and fast it has spread. That is reflected in the shaded areas of the graph below:
(Sources 2, 8, 9, 14)
The Blame Game
As the crisis continues and deepens, political conflicts within the nation likewise persist and intensify. Attacked by his critics for lack of preparedness, President Trump has characteristically fired back at them, criticizing the actions of many of the state governors’ efforts to tackle the problem and praising his own efforts. “I want them to be appreciative. We’ve done a great job,” he said of them. When New York Governor Cuomo demanded more help from Washington to get ventilators, Trump’s response was quick. Cuomo, he said, “Shouldn’t be complaining….You know what? He has a lot of ventilators. The problem is, with some people, no matter how much you give it’s never enough.” Statements such as these have only served to sharpened conflicts between Republicans and Democrats. (Source13)
This may be seen part of the “blame game” that has begun to swirl around the pandemic. With a presidential election coming up in the fall, both sides have begun positioning themselves to defend their actions and attack their opponent for failing to meet the challenges of the corona virus. President Trump’s recent attacks on the World Health Organization (WHO) may be seen in this light. “They called it wrong,” said Trump on April 8th, “They could have called it months earlier. They would have known, and they should have known, and they probably did know…” He went on to threaten to cut off funding to the organization in the middle of the pandemic. Democrats immediately accused him of trying to deflect criticism from his own shortcomings. (Source 5)
And so the blame game picks up steam. Perhaps the most bitter criticism of Trump during these decisive weeks has come – predictably – from his greatest political opponent in Washington, Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. “The President(‘s) denial at the beginning, was deadly. His delaying of getting equipment…to where it is needed is deadly…As the President fiddles, people are dying…” (Source 16)
The Presidential Election
Americans will have a chance to decide who has best dealt with the corona crisis when they vote in the Presidential election in the November. Some have worried that the pandemic will make it necessary to put off this election – or that President Trump might use it as an excuse to remain in power. That is highly unlikely, to put it mildly. The infection will be in an entirely different phase by that time. Moreover, putting off the election would be unconstitutional. Americans take their elections seriously. Wisconsin recently held its primary election in the teeth of the pandemic.
Which is not to say that the corona virus will not have an impact on that election. As this is written, the crisis has given President Trump a boost in the polls. He now has a 49% approval rating, up from 44% some weeks ago. This is known as the “rally-round-the-flag” effect in politics. In the middle of a major crisis, Americans tend to support their sitting government. Whether he will able to maintain that kind of support all the way to November remains to be seen. Meantime, the only certainty seems to be that people will go on dying in great numbers for weeks or months to come. (Source 20)
On April 12th, the state of New York had 189.415 cases of corona virus and a total of 9.385 deaths – more than double that of any other American state. About half of these cases and deaths were in New York City (NYC) alone. Why NYC? Some suggested it was the sheer number of inhabitants (18.4 million) living so close together (27.000 per square mile) that allowed the virus to spread quickly. Others said it was because tourists and international visitors brought the virus there early so it spread silently before people were aware of it. Still others blame New York authorities for not issuing stay-at-home orders until March 22, too late to stop the chain of infection. Some just write it off to bad luck. Perhaps studies in the future will settle the issue. For now, whatever the reasons, NYC’s bad luck continues. (Sources 7,11)
America vs America Sources
1 Devex world timeline Updated regularly
2 Worldometer; Cases in USA and Other Countries Updated regularly
3 State Restrictions NYT Updated regularly
4 The Washington Post Corona Virus News Updated regularly
5 Trump attacks WHO amid criticism of his coronavirus response April 8
6 COVID-19 projections assuming full social distancing through May 2020 April 8
7 Why New York has 12 times as many coronavirus deaths as California April 8
8 US projected to suffer coronavirus peak on April 16 with 2,614 deaths in one day; US coronavirus death toll between 100,000 and 240,000. April 8
9 Key forecasting model says U.S. may see tens of thousands fewer deaths than expected April 8
10 Joe Biden blasts Trump’s response to coronavirus day after their phone call April 7
11 Coronavirus New York: Why has coronavirus hit NYC so hard? April 3
12 Coronavirus: Things the US has got wrong – and got right April 1
13 Governors Fight Back Against March 31
14 Coronavirus May Kill 100,000 to 240,000 in U.S. Despite Actions, Officials Say March 31
15 Hot Spots in USA March 31
16 America’s terrible, growing coronavirus death toll makes Trump accept reality March 30
17 Right-Wing Media Is All Aboard Trump’s Coronavirus Death Train March 25
18 Timeline, Trump’s Response March 25
19 Coronavirus: What this crisis reveals about US – and its president March 24
20 Presidential Job Approval Center March 24
21 NYT;A Complete List of Trump’s Attempts to Play Down Coronavirus March 15
22 The Health Care Crisis January, 2020
23 Useful Media Sources
Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/
Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/
London Times: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/
New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/