The nation that should have been most prepared for a pandemic of this scale has now become the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, sustaining more cases and deaths than any other country. The United States had more resources, expertise, funding, and planning than many other nations that have been far more successful in combating COVID-19, yet we were vastly unprepared. So where did America go wrong?
Many mistakes have been made in the last four years, and in the last few months. The Trump administration has refused to use a 70 page pandemic playbook created by the National Security Council's (NSC) health department under the Obama administration. NCS's pandemic response team was disbanded in May 2018. The government's $30 million Complex Crises Fund was eliminated, which would have been used to deploy disease experts and resources in a health crisis. Last fall, in 2019, funding for an early pandemic detection program was cut. When President Trump began to receive intelligence about the novel coronavirus outbreak in January, he claimed that it would "disappear" like a "miracle". In February, the Department of Health and Human Services requested funding to replenish the government stockpile of medical supplies, which was denied at the time and not fulfilled until late March, at which point the situation had become extremely dire. Finally, the lack of funding for public health agencies and the government's refusal to take the outbreak seriously has prevented early and rigorous testing that could have helped to understand the scope of the disease's spread and contain it.
President Trump severely downplayed the virus's capabilities, claiming that it was comparable to the flu, that one sick person was not a concern, that Democratic concerns were a "hoax"; he took no responsibility, berated the press, told countless lies, and claimed that the outbreak was under control. Republicans followed suit, even viewing this as another Democratic ruse to impeach the president.
COVID-19's attack on the US illustrates the travesty that can occur when politics becomes intertwined with public health. Prioritizing the economy over human lives, President Trump repeatedly has undermined government stay-at-home orders, discrediting the severity of the virus and adamantly pushing for the re-opening of the country. Despite reports from numerous health officials, he and many of his supporters, including Republican governors of several states, downplayed the need for social distancing and self-quarantining. These states have been slow, if at all, to implement the appropriate lockdown measures.
These beliefs, perpetuated by the government itself, has led to a mass movement of protests. Encouraged by Trump through several Tweets, Republicans began resisting against state orders for businesses to remain closed and residents to remain at home. Protestors have been disregarding social distancing guidelines, not wearing masks and gathering in large crowds on capital grounds to protest governors' actions, dangerously blocking health care workers and ambulances from reaching hospitals. This behavior has been the perfect breeding ground for an uptick in cases in these states.
Anti-quarantine rallies in Michigan, Washington, Colorado, Minnesota, Virginia, and Kentucky have been organized by conservative groups and mega donors. "Operation Gridlock" in Michigan was largely funded by the family of Betsy DeVos, the Republic Secretary of Education, in an inappropriate political attack against Michigan's Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. This may have even been strategically planned for the upcoming election, as Gretchen Whitmer has been rumored to be a potential running mate for the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Protestors claim that their constitutional rights and freedom were being inhibited by the strict stay-at-home orders, despite the fact that these orders are enforced solely in order to save American lives. The unnecessary politicization of public health efforts has been a major factor in exacerbating the outbreak in the US.
The insensitive response from Republican government officials has sustained a dangerous movement across the country in opposition of public health efforts to curb the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the US. A nation which had the potential to guide the rest of the world in pandemic response has tragically failed, costing hundreds of thousands of American lives. Yet, somehow this administration still garners the support of a significant portion of its citizens. Hints of a second wave aligning with the next flu season are beginning to appear. Unless America begins to take this outbreak seriously, the ramifications of this catastrophe will be far worse than a dreaded economic recession -- hundreds of thousands of lives will be lost.