These are uncomfortable facts to contemplate: As of November 9, with 10,100,000 confirmed cases, the United States has had more confirmed Covid-19 cases than any other country in the world. And with 238,000 people having died from Covid-19 infections, we also have had the most deaths. America failed at controlling the pandemic.
It shouldn’t have gone down this way. We are a superpower. Many consider ourselves to be the superpower. Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the highest in the world. In 2019 it was 21 trillion dollars, which is 50% higher than the next highest country’s, China’s. We are spending 721 billion dollars on our military in 2020. In 2018, China only spent 170 billion on theirs. Russia spent less than that. No other country comes even close to our sheer economic and military might… as if money and guns were what made countries great.
With its authoritarian government and lack of transparency, China has been a favorite country to criticize. But China controlled the pandemic. Their total number of Covid-19 cases is a mere fraction of ours. To put this into perspective, more people have caught Covid-19 and died from the virus in Los Angeles County than the entirety of China throughout the whole pandemic.
America failed to stop the virus from entering the country. Then, America failed to prevent it from spreading. Now America has failed to prevent it from surging back. The economic effects have amplified our pain. Millions were laid off. The unemployment rates is still at 8%, and despite 3rd quarter gains, America’s GDP is still down from the beginning of the year. Added onto this, many have lost their health insurance and are also wondering how they will pay the rent.
Congress passed a 2.2 trillion dollar CARES Act, the most expensive bill in history, and it might not be enough. Subsequent and even larger pandemic relief bills are being debated in Congress. State government budgets are in upheaval. Our education system will soon be in shambles as hundreds of thousands of teachers are laid off and another round of remote learning comes, which leaves the poorest without schooling for a whole year.
It didn’t have to happen this way. Populated, democratic countries like Japan, Taiwan, and Korea never had the massive spikes we did. Developing countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia eventually reached zero community spread cases for many months straight. Democracies higher up on the Democracy Index, like New Zealand, kept the virus in check.
America was woefully and despairingly under-prepared for the pandemic and the blame game started. Democrats blamed the Republicans. The Republicans blamed China. But the reasons for America’s failure run deeper, much deeper.
Pandemics Have Been Here Since the Beginning of Time
We lacked imagination. Pandemics have been around from the beginning of time. But despite being the world’s superpower, America failed to have adequate safeguards against them. America disregarded what past administrations learned and prepared during previous pandemics. This happened despite the Spanish Flu, despite SARS and MERS, despite H1N1, despite Ebola, and even despite the outbreak in Wuhan. In our national consciousness, we still assumed it wouldn’t happen. We thought we were exceptional. We thought it would miss us or just not hurt us. However, we lacked the imagination to prepare for a probability.
Pandemics are a threat to national security. However, instead of putting money into national security protocols to protect against pandemics, we have been building tanks and bombs. We have been preparing for imaginary threats led by a fictional narrative that more money spent on defense makes America safer. In 2020, we will spend 721.5 billion dollars on the military, more than the next ten countries combined. And so we have 12 aircraft carriers in service while other countries have only two. We have 71 nuclear submarines as opposed to Russia’s 33. We have 3300 advanced fighter jets compared to Russia’s 1900 and China’s 1600.
It is in the national consciousness that more weapons equate with better results, but history shows the premise is fatally flawed. So quick are we to forget that since World War II, despite American superiority we have been plagued by stalemates and losses. We lost the Vietnam War. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are never ending.
The Enemy is the Virus
But the real enemy came as a virus unseen and literally undetected in late January and February of 2020. Our flawed priority has been exposed. While military spending increased, funding for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Public Health Emergency Preparedness was reduced to $675 million, 0.1% of the military’s budget.
The virus spread like wildfire. Testing was slow, and because testing was slow, the virus became impossible to do contact tracing. Only 445 tests were done by February 25th. When testing was finally ramped up in March, the US opened their eyes, but it was too late. New York City was nearly overwhelmed. Their hospitals were likened to warzones with critical shortages of 75 cent N95 masks and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
This nightmare should never have happened. In 2019, the U.S. spent 3.8 trillion dollars on healthcare, almost 20% of the GDP, more than any other developed country per capita. Another flaw in the system was exposed – our supply chain.
Lockdowns to Flatten the Curve
After most of the nation went into lockdown, the U.S. had all the knowledge needed to control the pandemic. We knew that flattening the curve would be needed to stop our hospitals from being overwhelmed. The countries that successfully managed Covid-19 used masks, social distancing, and contact tracing. But the government gave mixed messages. State economies reopened without following CDC guidelines, and many guidelines became watered down and not enforced. So America’s overall Covid numbers plateaued and then increased again. This exposed another flaw in the system – the inability to implement nationwide basic evidence-based guidelines.
For the U.S., there is no end in sight, but it could be much worse. From a historical perspective, Covid-19 is a relatively mild pandemic. In 2002 and 2003, another coronavirus, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), came into the United States from Asia with a 11% mortality rate. MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) was a third lethal coronavirus that entered the U.S. in 2012 from Saudi Arabia with a 34% mortality rate. Between 2014 and 2016, the Ebola virus crossed into the U.S. from West Africa with a 50% mortality rate. All of these viruses pale in comparison to the plagues of old. The septicemic plague that killed 100% of those untreated in the Black Death era.
Public Health Research
Public health researchers now estimate Covid-19 to have a fatality rate of between 0.5 to 1%, with treatment. Since it looks like we haven’t been able to contain it, we are lucky that Covid-19 wasn’t more lethal. But treatment is the key. The low estimated fatality rate of 0.5 to 1 % is precisely because people can be treated in hospitals and have treatments using blood thinners, steroids, the antiviral Remdesivir, oxygen, and ventilators with physicians carefully watching on.
Looking at the statistics for cumulative hospitalizations, if the healthcare system were to be overwhelmed again, the fatality rate could be four to five times more than we are experiencing, which is a fatality rate similar to the 1918 Spanish flu. There have been 8.9 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the United States. Even if ten times that number have already contracted the disease, that would mean more than 70% of the roughly 330 million Americans are still vulnerable to infection. There is still a possible scenario of having multiple major cities overwhelmed simultaneously, which would be apocalyptic. The curve needs to stay flattened.
America is at a Crossroads
We are here at a crossroads.The pandemic is ravaging our country. Many countries have stopped it, but we could not. We, as Americans, need to reflect on what we did wrong, how to mitigate the damage done, and what to do next. The future health of our economy is intertwined with efforts to control the virus. America needs change in how it has been dealing with Covid-19.
In the long term, Covid-19 may have been a blessing if we can learn from it and fix our system. It can help us be more aware of real, probable threats and put into place science-based solutions. Let us take this time to imagine the threats to our way of life, prepare, and do what we can to prevent them. The threats are numerous: pandemics, climate change, acidification and plastification of our oceans, asteroids, and all the others. If we can learn from our failures, perhaps, just perhaps, we can prevent the next big disaster.
Read more on the U.S. economy with how cutting taxes is bad for the economy or learn if Sweden’s approach to not shutting down the economy could have been implemented here in the U.S.