In 2017, as the Trump administration transitioned into the White House, the Obama administration handed over the reins of power along with lots of advice and warnings. Among them was a warning about the dangers of pandemics. In fact, there was an entire Pandemic Response Team that was part of the Obama administration but Donald Trump fired the US. Pandemic Response team in 2018 to cut costs.
By December of 2019, most of the world’s leaders and governments were alerted to the fact that a highly contagious potentially lethal strain of the Coronavirus was rapidly spreading in China. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned all countries that if they did not 1) isolate; 2) test; 3) treat and 4) trace the virus, they would be placing their populations at risk.
About a month later, in January 2020, the governments of the United States and South Korea both learned of the first case of the Coronavirus to reach their countries – these two governments were informed on the same day. Following is a list of events that occurred after the U.S. and South Korea learned of their first cases.
End of January: South Korea approves a diagnostic test and begins following the process outlined by the WHO – 1) isolate; 2) test; 3) treat and 4) trace
End of January: United States President is embroiled in an impeachment trial. No briefings or communications to the public offering guidelines. Coronavirus testing not available on a wide scale in the United States. WHO recommendations ignored.
Beginning of February: South Korea begins aggressive Coronavirus testing
Beginning of February: United States President Trump, in State of the Union Address, tells the American people that his administration “will take the necessary steps to safeguard our citizens from this threat” Trump announces he has “shut down” Coronavirus coming in from China. Testing not available on a wide scale in the United States. WHO recommendations not followed.
Mid February: South Korea well into testing implementation. Provides drive-through screening centers. South Korea has 28 cases of identified Coronavirus infections.
Mid February: United States President says of the Coronavirus “a lot of people think that goes away in April, with the heat”. Testing not available on a wide scale in the United States. WHO recommendations not followed. The United States has 15 cases of identified Coronavirus infections.
End of February: South Korea has tested thousands per day. WHO recommendations fully implemented.
End of February: United States President announces in several different briefings “because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low”. “We have it so well under control” “I view this the same as the flu” “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle. It will disappear”. At a rally Trump tells his supporters, “the Democrats are politicizing the Coronavirus.” “This is their new hoax”
Beginning of March: South Korea is testing over 10,000 people per day and have tested well over 290,000 people. South Korea had identified over 3,000 cases of Coronavirus.
Beginning of March: United States still has not implemented widespread Coronavirus testing. First week of March, less than 1,000 people in the U.S. identified as being infected with the virus. Federal government takes no action to quarantine. WHO recommendations ignored. The United States has identified 100 cases of Coronavirus.
Mid March: South Korea has identified approximately 8,000 cases of the Coronavirus. Number of new cases begins to level off. Active cases decreasing.
Mid March: United States has identified less than 8,000 but testing availability continues to be an issue. Masks, ventilators and other medical equipment is sorely lacking across the nation. WHO recommendations are not followed partly because we did not take the steps to manufacture or otherwise acquire the necessary equipment.
End of March: South Korea’s Coronavirus growth rate has flattened – remains at approximately 9,200.
End of March: United States now providing tests. Has identified approximately 86,000 people infected with the Coronoavirus. The number is growing rapidly with no evidence of leveling off. Several states have issued mandatory quarantine orders but not all states. The Federal Government will not issue a shut down but offers “guidelines”. World Health Organization announces that the United States will be the epicenter of the Coronavirus. As of the writing of this post, the United States has not implemented the full mitigation efforts suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO).
As of the date this article was posted, March 27, 2020, the United States had more ACTIVE cases than China, Italy and South Korea combined.
In Spring 2018 when Donald Trump fired the entire U.S. Pandemic Response Team, his rationale was that they weren’t doing anything. In more than one news conference, he expressed surprise that the flu killed so many people.
It is impossible to know how many lives will be lost because of this firing. Would this team have prepared us better? Perhaps we would have had Coronavirus testing as early or earlier than South Korea. Maybe frontline healthcare providers would have the equipment they need to protect themselves from being infected, including face masks and gowns or maybe we would have taken action earlier and provided additional ventilators to hospitals across the nation.
In one of the best pieces I’ve read on this topic, Dr. Richard Cooper, chair of Public Health Sciences at Loyola University Medical School and a cardiovascular epidemiologist likens Covid-19 to a test of sorts. He calls it, ” the virus that tells us who we are.” Posted in “Issues in Science and Technology”, here is an excerpt from his article:
Virtually every country in the world has been forced to take a difficult standardized exam over the past two months. Although the exam question—what would happen if you faced the emergence of pandemic from a new virus?—was not new, and in fact experts had assumed it would be a Coronavirus, every virus has unique biology, so this exam was also a pop quiz. At the risk of overusing the metaphor, China took the exam first, and was struck by a fit of anxiety, tried to cheat by hiding from reality, and bombed the first section. But they staged a recovery at warp speed and by the accounts of expert observers have accomplished something of a modern miracle. How? By taking necessary dramatic action to control the activity and daily lives of tens of millions of people, building huge hospitals in two days, setting up diagnostic assays that deliver results in four hours, shifting an army of medical care workers to affected regions, and rapidly acquiring an understanding of the disease—all the key elements of containment and treatment—and so it looks now like China has stopped the epidemic in its tracks.
He goes on to discuss South Korea’s performance as well as other countries. But the United States is the focus of his piece as it should be given that we now have almost ten times more cases than South Korea. The United States is the Coronavirus epicenter but if we’d followed the same route taken by S. Korea this would not be the case. Cooper’s piece is so worth the read. Here is a link. But for those who don’t bother to read it, Robert Cooper’s assessment of our situation is rather grim.
He believes that our handling of the virus is a reflection of who we are. He says, that so far we’ve done all of the wrong things. Why? According to Cooper it is because of who we are. Says Cooper, “Just as individuals with preexisting morbid conditions are at highest risk, US society has accumulated a long, ugly list of social ills and neglected institutions. COVID-19 is not just a rigorous exam; it is a mirror on ourselves.”
I couldn’t have said it better. FYI — I have included a screen shot taken from the worldometers coronavirus growth graph. Please scroll down and compare S. Korea to the United States — it is astounding that we are where we are. Your thoughts. PLEASE leave comments.
Publisher, LA Progressive