As most developed nations in the world have been seeing a steady decline in coronavirus cases over the couple of months, the situation in the United States has been decidedly different.
While the COVID-19 outbreak in New York has followed a similar pattern to countries like Italy and Spain, the United States as a whole has been setting daily records for coronavirus cases over the last two weeks.
As cases continue to rise at an alarming rate, one health expert is warning that the United States is entering one of the most unstable times in the country’s history.
Rising Cases in the United States
Since the beginning of March, the US has had more than 3.5 million recorded cases of the virus and nearly 140 thousand deaths. Last Friday, July 10, the country set a record for the highest single day of new cases, with a total of 71, 787 .
The resurgence of the virus over the last month has many health and government officials very concerned. Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, explained that he is not only worried about running out of hospital space or equipment, but about the toll this will take on hospital staff.
“We will have hospitals overwhelmed and not only in terms of ICU beds and hospitals — and that’s bad — but exhausted hospital staff and hospital staff that’s getting ill themselves,” he said. “So, we won’t have enough manpower, human power, to manage all of this,” .
Among the states that are experiencing the worst COVID-19 resurgence are California, Florida, and Texas, which have all been seeing more than at least eight thousand new cases every day for the last week. On Sunday, Florida set a record of 15 300 new cases, meanwhile Texas has seen more than ten thousand daily new cases for five out of the last seven days .
States Rolling Back Reopening Plans
The drastic increase in COVID-19 cases over the last couple of weeks has caused many state and city officials to re-think their plans to reopen their prospective states, and in some cases, reverse some of the steps they’ve already taken to return to “normal”.
One of these states is Georgia, which saw a state record of 4 484 new cases last friday. Because of this, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who has tested positive for the coronavirus, made the decision to roll back the city’s reopening to phase one, which will require residents to stay home except for essential trips, and retailers must offer only to-go or curbside pickup.
Georgia governor Brian Kemp, however, has publically slammed Lance Bottom’s decision, calling it confusing and legally unenforceable. The latter is in reference to an executive order that prohibits local action from being more prohibitive than the state’s requirements.
Kemp stated that the terms of the governor’s order were crafted in conjunction with the state public health officials, and the government has asked citizens and businesses to comply with these common-sense measures.
“Once again, if the mayor actually wants to flatten the curve in Atlanta, she should start enforcing state restrictions, which she has failed to do,” said Kemp .
In response to the increase in cases, the governor has reactivated a makeshift hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta to free capacity for more testing and hospital care .
The Texas government has renewed a disaster declaration that was originally issued in March, and the governor of Michigan has requested to have the use of the National Guard extended through December for tasks such as running mobile screenings, distributing food and medical supplies, and disinfecting public spaces .
Florida, on the other hand, which has seen some of the worst case spikes in the country, opened up Disney World for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began last Saturday. Governor Ron DeSantis, however, says that the state can handle the spikes and told reporters that none of Florida’s major hospitals have reached “surge level”.
This is a direct contradiction to the messaging coming from hospital staff.
“We are busting at the seams in the emergency room,” said Leah Carpenter, a nurse and CEO of Memorial West hospital .
She added that they are beyond capacity, but could extend if needed. The question is, how much more space can they create before they’re overrun?
South Carolina, Louisiana, and Wisconsin have all set daily new case records in the last week .
COVID-19 in the US: What Went Wrong?
Several other countries, notably Spain, Italy, and France, had COVID-19 outbreaks that were, at the outset, much worse than what was happening in the United States. Outside of New York, many states had very low case counts, and some had none at all.
Despite this, all of these countries (as well as New York), managed to get their outbreaks under control successfully, and are now reopening their cities, towns, and borders, while keeping the number of daily new cases to a minimum.
The US was ranked number one as the country that was the best-prepared to tackle a serious outbreak by the Global Health Security Index just 45 days before the world’s first suspected COVID-19 case .
So what went wrong?
The main reason the scorecard got it wrong was because it did not account for politics. The political context within which a national policy response to a global health pandemic is formulated and implemented will greatly influence how successfully a country can respond to a health crisis.
This, for the most part, comes down to leadership. President Trump believed that the United States was not vulnerable to a crisis like this. He, for the most part, rejected the guidance from scientists and health officials, and turned inwards, refusing to work with the members of the democratic party to create a cohesive, nation-wide response .
The same story played out across the pond in the UK, where Prime Minister Borris Johnson adopted a similar attitude as Trump. The UK has seen the worst pandemic response in Europe.
In May 2018, the Trump administration shut down a White House office created by former president Obama that was dedicated to pandemic preparedness. They also requested deep cuts to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which succeeded in clawing back significant funding from the CDC’s Public Health Science and Surveillance program, which plays a key role in outbreak preparedness .
The United States Government’s belief in their own exceptionalism caused them to dismiss early warnings by the World Health Organization, thus putting millions of their citizen’s lives at risk.
The federal government also left the responsibility for testing up to individual state governments, which created an uncoordinated, non-cohesive response across the country. State governments have had difficulty getting support from the federal government as well, leaving many of their hospitals under-staffed and without the necessary equipment.
Finally, the president’s refusal to wear a face mask, his irresponsible and careless promotion of unproven and often dangerous treatments, and his encouragement to his supporters to defy stay-at-home orders, has sent the message to the people of the United States that the virus is not as much of a threat as it is being made out to be .
Fear for the Future
As cases continue to surge in states and cities across the country, many health experts are deeply concerned for what is to come in the Fall, when temperatures begin to drop and people head back indoors.
“All people who study these viruses think that the summer is the quiet time. Think about that. This is the quiet time for coronavirus,” Dr. William Haseltine, a former professor at Harvard Medical School, told CNN on Friday. “If this is the quiet time, I hate to think what winter is going to be like this year” .
As we look toward the latter half of the year, it is imperative that public officials in the United States form a cohesive and aggressive response. Without it, thousands more lives will be needlessly lost.
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