The United States claimed to be most abundant in medical resources and healthcare capacity, yet its response to the COVID-19 pandemic was chaotic, causing it to lead the world in the numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases and related deaths.
Incompetent pandemic response led to dire consequences. A tally by Johns Hopkins University showed that as of the end of February 2021, the United States has registered more than 28 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, with related deaths exceeding 500,000. With a population of less than 5 percent of the world’s total, the United States accounted for more than 25 percent of all the confirmed cases and nearly 20 percent of the deaths. On Dec. 20, 2020, CNN reported that the state of California alone had reported 1.845 million COVID-19 cases and 22,599 deaths, which translates to roughly 4,669 known cases and 57 deaths for every 100,000 residents. Even these numbers don’t give the whole picture of the state, because many cases, including mild or asymptomatic infections, had not been diagnosed. Had the American authorities taken science-based measures to contain the pandemic, this could have been avoided. But since they had not, the pandemic, as epidemiologist and former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) William Foege had put it, is “a slaughter” to the United States.
National leaders ignored warnings from experts and downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic. According to the timeline of COVID-19 pandemic in the United States released by media outlets including The New York Times and The Washington Post, the Trump administration had repeatedly ignored alarms regarding the risks of the pandemic. In early January 2020, a National Security Council office had already received intelligence reports predicting the spread of the virus to the United States. In a Jan. 29, 2020 memo, then White House trade adviser Peter Navarro projected that a coronavirus pandemic might lead to as many as half a million deaths and trillions of dollars in economic losses. A number of health officials, including then Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and medical experts also warned of the possibility of a pandemic in the United States. None of the aforementioned warnings brought the imminent pandemic to the Trump administration’s attention. Instead, the administration focused on controlling the message, and released misleading signals to the public by claiming “the risk of the virus to most Americans was very low,” suggesting that the coronavirus is no worse than the common flu, and stating the virus will “miraculously go away” when the weather gets warmer. Thus, the country lost crucial weeks for pandemic prevention and control. An article published on the website of The New York Times on April 13, 2020 commented that, then American leader’s “preference for following his gut rather than the data cost time, and perhaps lives.”
Government inaction led to uncontrolled pandemic spread. “There’s no need for that many to have died. We chose, as a country, to take our foot off the gas pedal. We chose to, and that's the tragedy.” So commented David Hayes-Bautista, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, after the pandemic death toll hit 300,000 in the United States. Disease modelers with the Columbia University also estimated that, if the United States had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, 2020, two weeks earlier than most people started staying home, about 83 percent of the nation’s pandemic-related deaths would have been avoided. An editorial from the website of medical journal The Lancet, published on May 17, 2020, commented that the U.S. government was obsessed with magic bullets -- vaccines, new medicines, or a hope that the virus will simply disappear. At the same time, it noted that only a steadfast reliance on basic public health principles, like testing, tracing, and isolation, would see the emergency brought to an end. Even when the pandemic is spreading in a vast area in the United States, the administration was hasty to restart the economy due to political concerns. According to news website Vox on Aug. 11, 2020, in April and May last year, several states rushed to reopen and caused the virus to shift to the South, West and eventually the rest of the United States. In addition, despite that experts had recommended people wear masks in public, the then American leader and some state officials had been extremely reluctant to issue any decree to make wearing masks mandatory.
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