It took two months for the U.S. to record its first 50,000 cases of COVID-19.
Now, as it gallops toward three million cases, the numbers are increasing at a rate of 50,000 cases a day and, if the current trends continue, it will soon be 100,000 cases daily.
It’s hard to overstate how bad the situation has become as the novel coronavirus rips across the Sun Belt from Florida to Texas to Arizona to California. Cases are trending up in 43 states. They are trending down in only two, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Even there, things are hardly going well; Rhode Island,, population 1.1 million, has roughly the same number of deaths as Japan, population 127 million.
It’s not the kind of Fourth of July fireworks anyone hoped for, but as Americans fan out across the country for the weekend, we can fully expect the outbreak to boomerang back to already hard-hit eastern states such as New York, Illinois and Michigan.
With no end in sight to the COVID-19 carnage, we need to ask ourselves how it is possible for a country with unlimited financial, medical and communications clout to screw up its response so badly?
Even more importantly: Does the mighty United States of America have the political will to stop this seemingly runaway train?
There is no country on Earth where the response to the coronavirus has been more politicized. Since day one, U.S. President Donald Trump has followed a well-worn playbook of blaming others, shameless braggadocio, blissful denial, and delusional thinking.
The President has pointed fingers at everyone from China to the World Health Organization, embraced everything from conspiracy theories to overhyped “cures,” and systematically ignored the advice of epidemiologists and public-health experts in favour of that of sycophants.
When indoor gatherings were strongly discouraged, Mr. Trump staged a rally in a large arena. He is hosting a Fourth of July fireworks display at Mount Rushmore, where social distancing will be virtually impossible. And – until very recently – he steadfastly refused to wear a mask.
Despite the raging outbreaks in the U.S. South, the President insists “we’re getting things under control.”
And his long-term plan? “I think, at some point, that’s going to just disappear, I hope.”
Apparently, infection control, like gun control, depends on hopes and prayers, not sound public policies.
Beyond the glaring absence of political leadership, the U.S. is paying a steep price for its impatience.
The states that are now seeing fearsome increases in COVID-19 cases all have one thing in common: They ended their lockdowns early and broadly.
They arrogantly ignored the key take-home lesson from Asia and Europe: Lock down swiftly, and re-open slowly. Instead, virtually everything reopened at once: shopping malls, hair salons, movie theatres, casinos, strip clubs, restaurants, and bars.
It is puzzling that so much effort was put into re-opening bars and so little into reopening schools and keeping workers in the service sector safe.
But, in America, seemingly everyone was champing at the bit to make money again, pandemic be damned. This has backfired. The premature rush to “back to normal” will have a steep economic price.
Indoor bars, in particular, have proved a flashpoint for disease spread. That’s not surprising given they are settings where maskless patrons mingle in close proximity, speaking loudly, drinking alcohol that dulls cautiousness.
One bar, Harper’s Restaurant & Brew Pub, has had a well-publicized and on-going outbreak that has seen 158 people infected, so far. The bar scene, not the Black Lives Matter protests, help explain why cases are soaring among young adults.
In response to record numbers of new cases, states are now ordering bars, and in some cases restaurants, to close anew. But, as public-health officials warned all along, it’s difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.
It’s virtually unthinkable that Americans would respect another round of stay-at-home orders. So, what’s left is trying to mitigate the damage with measures such as mandatory masks (even Texas has made masks mandatory!) and physical distancing, a concept that seems to have been quickly forgotten south of the border.
In its haste to fire up the economy, the U.S. seems to have instead ignited a wildfire of coronavirus and, looking ahead, the only certainty is that Americans are in for a summer of suffering.
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