The United States has the most known coronavirus cases in the world and key mistakes made in the early days of the outbreak are being blamed for the impending wave of deaths expected in the country.
The US has more than 215,417 confirmed cases of coronavirus, nearly twice as many as the next nearest country Italy which has so far recorded 110,574 cases. Spain is the only other country to officially crack the six figure mark with 104,118 cases.
Even with strong social distancing measures in place, the US government’s modelling is predicting as many as 100,000 to 240,000 people could die from the novel coronavirus – but it could’ve been a lot less.
Early testing was bungled
A series of missteps at the nation’s top public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), caused a critical shortage of reliable laboratory tests for COVID-19, hobbling the federal response as the pandemic spread across the country like wildfire.
The US decided not to use the test adopted by the World Health Organisation but soon had flaws with the more complex test developed by the CDC.
In the critical month of February, as the virus began taking root in the US population, CDC data shows government labs processed 352 COVID-19 tests — an average of just a dozen per day.
The lack of early testing meant health authorities were flying blind, not knowing where potential virus hotspots would flare up. As a result, places like New York were caught on the back foot as cases quietly exploded and now hospitals are unable to cope with the number of dead.
The country has, of course, dramatically ramped up testing in recent weeks, hence the largest tally of known cases.
Mixed messages and political downplaying of the virus
In order to contain the virus, measures must be taken early on as the first known cases begin to spread through the population.
While Trump has now recognised the severity of the pandemic in the country, during the crucial early weeks the president – and countless right wing pundits – downplayed the severity of COVID-19.
Dr Ashish K. Jha, the director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard, says that denial has proved deadly.
“There were many, many opportunities not to end up where we are,” he told the Associated Press recently.
“Basically, they took this as business as usual. ... And that’s because the messaging from the White House was ‘this is not a big deal, this is no worse than the flu.’ So that message basically created no sense of urgency within the FDA or the CDC to fix it.”
Social distancing failures
As the novel coronavirus spread in the US, life went on as normal and college partygoers dispersed around the country for spring break. Data tracking the mobile phones of travellers during the holiday shows the potential spread during that time.
Flight tracking data also shows the immense level of ongoing internal travel taking place in the US compared to countries in Europe. However reports on Thursday, AEST, claim Trump is now considering banning domestic flights.
While sporting leagues like the NBA and the NHL moved swiftly and took it upon themselves to halt the season, other pubic gatherings like mega churches have been defiant in the face of coronavirus.
A church in hard hit Louisiana continues to welcome thousands despite pastor Tony Spell being criminally cited for violating an order limiting the size of gatherings.
“The virus, we believe, is politically motivated,” he told a local television station. “We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”
Delays in engaging the private sector to make equipment
Like most countries, the US is facing a shortfall of vital equipment such as ventilators and protective gear for medical staff.
After initially resisting it, Trump last week officially invoked something called the Defence Production Act which gives him powers to compel American companies to suspend their normal production schedules and begin manufacturing particular materials needed in a time of crisis.
Trump has ordered General Motors to make ventilators and the company expects to start making the breathing machines in mid-April, ramping up to a rate of 10,000 per month at as quickly as it can.
But critics say the push to compel private industry should’ve happened sooner as equipment shortages continue to hinder the healthcare response.
On Tuesday, local time, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo complained that states, along with the federal government, were competing for equipment, driving up prices for everyone.
“It's like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator,” he said.
New York City ‘like a zombie apocalypse’
New York state accounts for nearly half the known cases of coronavirus in the country as the New York death toll surpassed 1,375 on Thursday (AEST).
Dr Dyan Hes is a New York pediatrician who has been working on the frontlines of what has become one of the worst outbreaks in the global pandemic.
Speaking to the ABC’s Planet America program on Wednesday night, she said the city has become too frightening for her 13-year-old daughter to walk down the street.
While the streets are almost deserted, the homeless and the mentally ill have become particularly vulnerable in the crisis, Dr Hes said.
“There are so many homeless people now who got kicked out of psychiatric hospitals when they closed, and have been living on the street and in shelters but now because of the coronavirus they don’t want to stay in the shelters,” she said.
“So they’re all over the streets. We walked home ... and I’m literally not exaggerating that every other street, we had to cross the street because there was a deranged homeless person throwing something, screaming, urinating on a wall, hunched up in a ball doing drugs, in a telephone booth doing drugs.
“It’s like the zombie apocalypse,” she said.
Despite living in the affluent suburb of Chelsea, Dr Hes said she will no longer let her kids take the dog for a walk outside.
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