COVID-19: A Call for More Effective Measures
April 12th, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has brought brusque changes to many of our lives—financial difficulties and unsurmountable grief for some. New York City—a metropolis of culture and commercialism—has become nearly a ghost town, a result of enormous numbers of layoffs. Overwrought shoppers have stockpiled supplies and non-perishables. The city transitioned to virtual learning for grades kindergarten through 12th grade on March 23rd, after mounting pressure from parents and teachers, in step with the global experimentation with remote teaching the pandemic has required. There are even fears that the world may be on the brink of an economic shock unprecedented since the Great Depression.
Hospitals across the nation have reported serious deficits of civilian test kits, surgical masks, and ventilators. According to The New York Times, the most commonly reported shortages are medicines used to keep patients’ airways open, control peripheral lung infections, alleviate pain, reduce fevers, and resuscitate those who go into cardiac arrest. Health care workers barely have enough medical supplies to protect themselves and patients. Nurses at Mount Sinai West wore black garbage bags over their scrubs due to the lack of protective gear there. The federal government has nearly emptied its emergency stockpile of protective medical supplies like masks, gowns, and gloves, and some states desperate for much-needed ventilators received them only to discover that they malfunctioned. One hospital reported receiving 2,300 crucial N95 masks from a state stockpile, only to realize that they were not usable because the elastic bands had rotted.
The acute lack of testing supplies has restricted hospitals’ ability to monitor the health of patients and has fueled the projection of inexact statistical models by the media. According to The Hill, “the confirmed cases’ statistic ubiquitously [includes] only the cases that have been definitively confirmed by testing. The vast majority of people have not been — and likely will not be — tested: That includes people who contracted the virus and had mild or few symptoms or have recovered without hospitalization. For weeks now…only the most severe cases were tested, which means many people who had or have the disease are undercounted, if counted at all.”
In terms of the American government’s role in this global crisis, the Trump administration received its first formal notification of the coronavirus outbreak in China on January 3rd. Within days, U.S. spy agencies were communicating the severity of the threat by appending a warning about the virus in the President’s daily brief. It took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to heed the coronavirus as what it is: a fatal force that had surpassed the United States’ defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens.
On January 30, the World Health Organization declared Coronavirus to be a “public-health emergency of international concern.” That same day, during a speech in Michigan, Trump said: “We have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five. And those people are all recuperating successfully.” On February 10, at a campaign rally, Trump said that “when it gets a little warmer, [the virus] miraculously goes away.” Trump’s groundless assertions exacerbated public confusion and contradicted the messages of public health specialists.
On February 5th, the CDC began shipping coronavirus test kits to laboratories around the country. However, labs soon discovered that the tests suffered from a technical flaw and did not generate reliable results. The Trump administration could have then begun to distribute a functioning test from the World Health Organization, but did not.
It was already established that the United States would not have an effective response to a potential pandemic. According to CNN, following a 2018 tabletop exercise, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security warned that in the event of a severe pandemic there would be a shortfall of hundreds of thousands of ventilators in the United States. This warning seems to have been effectively disregarded.
Trump could have taken aggressive measures to decelerate the spread of the virus; he could have insisted that the United States increase efforts to produce test kits and emphasized the risks that the virus presented to the vulnerable public. Trump could have prioritized public health rather than making the virus sound like a trivial matter, inculpating other countries, and claiming incorrectly that the situation was improving. If Trump had prioritized the global health ramifications over the impact of a recession (which came about anyway) on his image, perhaps the United States would not be in such a calamitous situation.
Amidst poor federal leadership, insufficient testing, and a dearth of medical supplies, it is important to accolade the unsung heroes—clinicians, sanitation workers, grocery store employees, and all other essential professionals— who risk their lives to equip the public with resources. Society will remember the remarkable contributions of these individuals. Hopefully, the government will evolve and develop a more methodical infrastructure for global crises and, in doing so, prevent a future calamity from having an impact of this magnitude.