In February and March of 2020, we had a chance to crush the novel coronavirus and prevent mass death and suffering from COVID-19. Donald Trump, then President of the United States, had been briefed on the horrific transmissibility and lethality of the virus. He told Bob Woodward weeks later he knew it could kill millions.
On February 5, 2020, Sen. Chris Murphy shared his grave concern that the White House was not taking the pandemic seriously enough.
Trump’s pathological obsession with denying the severity of the pandemic led millions to side with Trump against science. Even as tens of thousands lost their lives in the worst viral hotspots, politicians aligned with Trump fought against many or sometimes all public health protections.
In New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, and Japan, public health standards were clear and universal. Everyone needed to wear masks in public, respect social distancing guidelines, and avoid indoor gatherings, including restaurants and office spaces. A short but decisive nationally coordinated action, with people acting in solidarity, would crush the curve, stop the spread, contain the virus, and effectively end the outbreak.
In the US, Trump and his anti-science allies worked to confuse the public, conceal science-based public health guidance, and sabotage virus containment measures. Even as deaths skyrocketed, Trump and his allies lied about the data, lied about the known efficacy of containment measures, and “played down” the transmissibility and lethality of the virus.
One year after Sen. Murphy warned the Trumpadministration was not readying the nation to face the known threat, 459,361 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19. We have been losing more than 2,000 people per day for over two months—sometimes more than 4,000 per day. By contrast, the total deaths in four countries that quicklyacted to contain the virus, using masks, social distancing, and temporary shutdowns, are:
- Australia: 909 deaths.
- Japan: 6,372 deaths.
- New Zealand: 25 deaths.
- South Korea: 1,464 deaths.
The combined population of these four countries is 208 million people, just under 2/3 the population of the US. Combined, they have lost 8,770 lives to COVID-19. If the US response had been as effective, 13,914 would have died, not 459,361.
The US is still experiencing wide community spread everywhere. In South Dakota, where the governor blocked nearly all mask mandates or local travel restrictions, 1 in every 500 residents has been killed by COVID-19. The 12-month death toll is higher than the annual statewide deaths from cancer or heart disease.
The further and more frequently a virus spreads, the faster it can mutate. There are now at least 3 more infectious variants of the novel coronavirus actively spreading in the United States. New analysis shows the number of active cases on any given day is likely 10 times higher than the number of new confirmed cases reported for that day.
The new variants, in particular B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, could turn the worst days of the pandemic—which have come in recent weeks—into the foundation of an unprecedented surge. If patterns of new infection, hospitalization, and death observed in the UK and Ireland show up in the US, the situation would be more catastrophic than anything seen to date.
Rates of infection and death are starting to decline, with a new administration telling truth about science, with mask wearing becoming more common, and with vaccinations starting to get up to speed. But there is real concern that the new variants will not respond to the existing vaccines. This means mask-wearing and social distancing will continue to be critical public health safety measures, just as people begin to feel the situation is improving.
The anti-maskers are responsible for aiding the spread of this virus; anti-mask political leaders have helped the virus spread, and contributed to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths. The ongoing disruptions to our everyday way of living in society are the result of the anti-maskers’ refusal to behave responsibly toward their neighbors, their own families, and their own health.
COVID-19 won’t be the last pathogen to put entire nations at risk. The US example shows we need far greater levels of pandemic preparedness:
- better surveillance and early warning around the world;
- better and more robust and actionable testing and tracing;
- better stockpiling and funding for personal protective equipment for medical front-line workers;
- better public understanding of public health risk and pandemic containment measures;
- better coordination between authorities at all levels of jurisdiction and levels of population density;
- better and more equitable coordination of vaccine distribution and vaccinations.
We can do better. We must do better. We must start now.