Is the U.S. reliving its coronavirus nightmare?
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, as this is being written, the U.S. has had 39,911 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, and for four consecutive days, more than 30,000 new infections were confirmed each day.
It has been 3 1/2 months since the U.S. declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic, during the height of which, the number of daily infections was only about 39,000, but even now, there is a rapid rate of increase. No wonder many are feeling that America is experiencing a nightmarish déjà vu.
An op-ed in The New York Times on June 24 also shared this concern when it said that the country seemed to have found itself back in March, when the outbreak began. At the time, the lockdown had just started, face masks were out of stock everywhere and the death count was skyrocketing.
Currently, there are two crucial risk factors worth noting for the U.S.
First, a new epicenter may emerge. At the beginning of the outbreak, New York and New Jersey became the first such epicenters, with their combined cases accounting for more than 23% of the entire country. Now, however, these two states have adopted relatively stricter control measures, and the number of new cases has started to drop. On the other hand, the situation in states that had not experienced as much initial impact, such as Texas, Florida and California, are suddenly deteriorating. Recently, the three more populous states are seeing daily infection rates exceeding 5,000, which account for around half of all new U.S. cases in the same time frame.
Second, the real number may be higher. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been major suspicion and controversy regarding the presumed number of real cases due to insufficient testing and lack of official data. On June 25, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, delivered a scoop, saying that the U.S. may have only diagnosed 10% of the population infected with the coronavirus. Thus, according to his estimates, more than 23 million people nationwide may have already been infected.
The enormous yet undiagnosed infected population is indeed worrying and presents its own hidden risks. However, along with the soaring case numbers, this constitutes only the tip of the iceberg. Under the surface, there are three big, glaring problems that have been bending the curve and affecting the public’s perception of the pandemic
1. An Incompetent Government.
The Trump administration has been criticized for downplaying the threat of the outbreak, ignoring the dearth of sufficient testing and emergency supplies, and playing the blame game.
On June 25, the U.S. government scored low marks again for its unsatisfactory performance combating the outbreak. A new report released by the Government Accountability Office, an agency that works for Congress, claims that the American government was clearly underprepared for the pandemic.
The report points out that the Strategic National Stockpile had an inadequate supply of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other critical medical supplies to meet the needs of states and territories. Viral testing data compiled by the CDC has been incomplete and inconsistent, making it more difficult to track the infection rate and inform decisions on reopening communities. The federal government also issued relief funds hurriedly and chaotically; but because it did not consult death records, $1.4 billion was sent to deceased individuals.
2. A Choice between Rebooting or Not Rebooting
The controversy over rebooting the economy and restoring control measures has been around from the beginning. In mid-April, the Trump administration issued reopening guidelines despite general opposition from health experts. In some cases, states even faked data in order to reopen. Although experts, the media and international organizations issued repeated warnings, all 50 states were in some stage of reopening by late May; at the time, the number of daily new cases exceeded 20,000.
Warnings have accurately predicted that rebooting the economy too early would lead to a resurgence. According to CNN, at least 29 states are experiencing a rebound in cases, including Florida and Texas, which reopened earlier. As a result, these two states, together with Utah and Oregon, have had to press pause on reopening to varying degrees.
3. A Society Torn apart by Injustice.
The death of George Floyd, an African American man, again exposed entrenched racial inequalities in American society, and triggered the largest protests against police violence in the U.S. in decades. The inequalities are also evident during this pandemic: the death rate for patients of African descent is significantly higher than that of other races. This death rate is 2.6 times that of white people and accounts for 27% of the total U.S. death toll. The higher mortality rate of African Americans is closely related to their low economic status and lack of economic security. Alongside racial inequalities, economic inequalities also exist for others – the infection and mortality rates of Latinos, who also hold low economic status, are on average much higher than those of white people.
In this regard, Robert Reich, former U.S. secretary of labor and professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, offered an explanation. The poor account for the largest proportion of deaths in the population, especially African Americans and Hispanics. Most of them are involved in the service industry, which puts them at risk of infection. Many became unemployed as well and due to low income, cannot receive decent medical care. Many also suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, symptoms of which are likely to worsen after infection.
The coronavirus pandemic is making an unprecedented impact and presenting an unprecedented challenge for countries around the world, especially the U.S., which is at its epicenter. The competency of the country’s government is being repeatedly tested. The Trump administration faces three major trials: How does it optimize the prevention and control of this disease? How does it balance reopening the economy and controlling the disease? And how does it solve the inequalities highlighted by this crisis?
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