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Learning from the successes and failures of the US

2020-04-02 17:29:16
The US has become a kind of case study for the management of the coronavirus. Fraught by poor leadership and bad decisions from the top and poor judgement by some people. But there are some cases which highlight the good points of America. Here are the failures and successes of the US

The US is now the new global epicentre of the pandemic, surpassing the number of reported cases in China, where the virus began, and Italy, the hardest-hit European nation.

 

MISTAKES

 

Medical supply shortages

Masks, gloves, gowns and ventilators are in very short supply in the US. In almost every state, doctors and hospitals across the country, but particularly in areas hardest hit by the pandemic, are scrambling for items essential to help those stricken by the virus and protect medical professionals.

 

The US government failed to adequately secure and maintain the stockpile of medical supplies necessary to deal with a pandemic of this scale. The federal government also failed to take the virus seriously and moved too slowly when the nature of the current crisis became apparent.

 

The lack of adequate medical supplies and protective gear has forced healthcare workers to reuse existing sanitary garb or create their own makeshift gear. A shortage of ventilators has state officials worried they will soon be forced into performing medical triage, deciding on the fly who receives the life-sustaining support - and who doesn't.

 

On Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo complained that states, along with the federal government, were competing for equipment, driving up prices for everyone.

 

"We lost many weeks in terms of ramping up the production capacity around personal protection equipment and never fully utilizing government authority to make sure that production took place," he says.

 

Testing delays

The US did not ramp up testing in the early stages when of the pandemic failing to control the viral outbreak like Covid-19 resulting in extensive community transmission which led to subsequent and severe complications

 

Without this information, public health officials are essentially flying blind, not knowing where the next viral hotspot will flare-up. Lack of comprehensive testing allowed infected patients to spread the virus to the masses. With testing being done, the government could have limited the reach of the virus in communities by isolating them and quarantining off the areas that were hot spots

 

This was worsened by the fact that the initial tests were faulty and testing was done only in handfuls

 

What's worse is that because of the initial shortages, the labs that analyse the results have been overwhelmed, leading to delays of a week or more before tested individuals can learn if they have the virus.

 

Politics

Inconsistent messages from the top are a real problem, especially if he is the leader of your nation.

 

At his press conference on Tuesday afternoon, President Trump offered a grim outlook for the nation.

 

"I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead," he said.

 

His public health advisers followed that statement up with charts predicting at least 100,000 American deaths from the virus even under the current mitigation efforts.

 

The president's comments stood in stark contrast to his previous remarks when he expressed hope that the US could begin to reopen businesses by the mid-April Easter holiday.

 

In January and February, as the viral outbreak devastated Chinese manufacturing and began exacting a high toll in Italy, the president repeatedly downplayed the threat to the US.

 

Following the first few American cases, Trump and other administration officials said the situation was under control and would dissipate in the summer "like a miracle".

 

The president has also feuded with Democratic state governors, criticising New York's Andrew Cuomo and belittling Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer on Twitter, who were calling him out for poor management of the situation

 

Social-distancing failures

College students on spring break from classes packed Florida’s beaches. New York City residents filled subway cars. A church in Louisiana continues to welcome thousands despite the order to limit the size of gatherings.

 

Across the country, there have been numerous examples of Americans failing to heed the calls by public health professionals to practice physical and social distancing. What made it worse was that it was sometimes abetted by local and state government officials who have been reluctant to order businesses to shutter and citizens to shelter in place.

 

Even steps taken with the best of intentions might have had adverse consequences.

 

Halting public-transportation services, such as New York's subway, may have led to trains and buses that were more crowded. Universities that sent students home to their families may have contributed to the spread of the virus by returning infected individuals to cities, neighbourhoods and homes not yet in full lockdown.

 

The lack of clarity in the president's order to halt entry from Europe at immigration borders led to crowds at airports where unscreened infected passengers could easily transit the disease to others.

 

Decisions like those had dire consequences to the American people, hampering efforts to contain the spread of the virus throughout the country

 

SUCCESSES

 

Stimulus Goliath

Last week the Congress passed a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, which included direct cash payments to many Americans, expanded unemployment assistance, aid to states, healthcare facilities and other public services, support for hardest-hit industries, and loans to small- and medium-sized businesses that can be forgiven if they avoid layoffs.

 

Congress attempted to address this by introducing a coronavirus legislation that ensured that freelance and gig-economy workers are covered and temporarily supplementing the existing benefits.

 

Both Trump and Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have also already talked about working on another aid bill, perhaps with infrastructure investment and additional healthcare benefits

 

Research firepower

If the coronavirus is exposing some of the major flaws in the US healthcare system - high costs, a lack of universal coverage and supply chains that are unable to withstand a shock - it also could end up highlighting the strength of the nation's research and drug development infrastructure.

 

Pharmaceutical manufacturers and medical researchers are rushing to learn more about the virus in an attempt to devise new strategies to defeat the pandemic.

 

One company has developed a new fast-response test that can identify those carrying the virus almost immediately, ending the current testing backlog and allowing public health officials to quickly identify new outbreak hotspots and make quarantining decisions.

 

Pharmaceutical companies that are researching treatments and cures are receiving assurances from the government that there will be a market for their products and they will be adequately compensated for their investments. The problem, he says, is that the efforts made today will take months - or longer - before they show results.

 

For now, the main priority of the public health policy is to limit the toll the virus takes on the population until that day arrives when the vaccine is made available

 

State leadership

The US federal system of government, which delegates broad powers to individual states, has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. Some are making good decisions and some are not.

 

In good times, it allows local leaders to experiment individually with various public policy solutions, testing out best practices that can then be adopted across the nation.

 

However, in bad times, local leaders attempt to patchwork a response can be inadequate and lacking, resulting in avoidable deaths and economic disruption.

 

Governors like Gavin Newsom of California and Jay Inslee of Washington, who took early steps to close schools and issue shelter-in-place orders that have resulted in a slower spread of the virus in their populations.

 

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has also received praise from many quarters for his decisive early moves that at the time were viewed by some as too drastic.

 

The problem in the US is that the capacity to respond varies so dramatically on a state-by-state basis because of the willingness to invest in public health. States which are not doing their most and best to contain the virus might hamper the efforts of other states resulting in more deaths and transmissions