If there’s a silver lining in the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that, across the country, Americans are stepping up to fill the void left by the astonishing lack of leadership in …
If there’s a silver lining in the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that, across the country, Americans are stepping up to fill the void left by the astonishing lack of leadership in Washington. As we reported last week, small companies like Wintergreen are reaching out to hospitals in their region, in hopes of using their capabilities to help protect healthcare workers through the manufacture of protective face masks and hospital gowns.
Similar stories are now being told throughout the country. In the absence of a coordinated national response, everyday Americans are coming up with their own solutions to help protect themselves, healthcare professionals and first responders in their own communities from the dangers posed by the COVID-19 virus.
That’s the good news. The unfortunate reality is that it shouldn’t have been necessary. It’s no coincidence that the United States is now home to nearly a third of all COVID-19 infections in the world, with more than 25,000 new cases now reported daily. At the current pace of new infection, more than a million Americans will likely be diagnosed with a COVID-19 infection by the end of April and many times that number will likely have the disease without being tested.
America will ultimately be the country hardest hit by this disease in large part due to a monumental failure of leadership by President Trump.
We don’t have to wonder how things might have been different had the federal government acted more decisively. Two countries, the U.S. and South Korea, both experienced their first confirmed case of COVID-19 infection on Jan. 20 of this year. Within a week of those diagnoses, South Korea’s disease control agency mounted a full-court press, mobilizing private industry to prepare for the pandemic by producing quick and effective tests. Within a week, the tests were ready to go and the Koreans efficiently tested hundreds of thousands of their residents within a month, isolating those who tested positive. By taking effective action from the start, the South Koreans have managed to keep their outbreak at a manageable level. Today, two and a half months after their first confirmed infection, that country of 50 million people is seeing new infections on the order of several dozen per day, compared to 30,000 per day here in the U.S. We have reproduced the graphs showing the rate of new infection for both South Korea and the U.S. below. The difference is striking and reflects, more than anything, the relative effectiveness of each country’s response to this public health emergency.
Here in the U.S., the initial response was classic Trump: denial, followed by braggadocio. “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming from China. It’s going to be just fine.”
At a time when most other countries were ramping up for what most epidemiologists by this time recognized was going to be a monumental pandemic, the Trump White House dithered, continuing to vacillate between dismissing it as a Democratic hoax and touting what a masterful job the President was doing to keep it contained. “We are witnessing in the United States one of the greatest failures of basic governance and basic leadership in modern times,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, who led the U.S. response to international disasters at USAid during President Obama’s second term, while speaking recently to The Guardian newspaper. Many, many other experienced former officials have made similar observations.
While reality eventually seeped into the tight bubble that surrounds President Trump, the U.S. largely lost this battle in the critical six weeks from that first infection in January to early March. By failing to take the action that this pandemic required, the Trump White House allowed this plague to gain a firm foothold in America, from which it is wreaking utter havoc, both on the health of millions, our overburdened healthcare system, and our economy. Americans will continue to pay the price of this failed leadership for a long time to come.