The coronavirus pandemic has hit the United States hard in the past few weeks. Of reported cases globally so far, the US — with 5% of the world’s population — now has 12% of cases and rising.
The World Health Organization says the US may soon become the epicentre of the disease.
One important indicator is that deaths caused by the virus in the US have doubled about every four days — a truly exponential rate.
Sometimes, people have difficulty grasping what this means, so here is what will happen if this continues: On March 24, the number of deaths stood at about 650; by March 28, the number would rise to 1300; by April 1, 2600; April 5, 5200; April 9, 10,400 and so on. More than one million people would die by early May.
We can hope that this progression will not occur, and that the time between the doubling of deaths will lengthen. However, this will only happen if there is full implementation of a “stay at home” lockdown for the whole population to curb the spread of the disease — with the exception of those workers needed for critical services and goods.
The failure of the federal government to adequately deal with the pandemic from the beginning has created a situation where the country has greatly lagged behind the curve of the rise in infections.
Instead of preparing for the worst — and the worst is what is happening — we are not even able to keep up with the growing need for crucial medical equipment.
There are two glaring failures.
The first is that there are no plans to provide the number of ventilators that will be needed to deal with the sickest patients, many of whom will die as a result. If this need for new ventilators is not met, doctors will be faced with the situation in Italy: triage to determine who will live and who will die.
The epicentre of the pandemic in the US is now New York. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo estimates, on the advice of medical scientists, that 30,000 ventilators will be needed in the next few weeks. The federal government has provided just 2400. The governor is warning other states that NY is their future.
The second failure is the lack of personal protective equipment, including special masks, gloves, gowns and other items for nurses and doctors on the front lines fighting to help those requiring hospitalisation. Nurses’ unions and doctors have pleaded with US President Donald Trump to provide these, to no avail.
This places these indispensable medical personnel in danger of getting sick themselves, further compromising the health of their patients.
Another critical need is more hospitals and hospital beds, on the scale needed to meet the inevitable peak in patients needing hospitalisation. Experts say that will be reached within six weeks.
Trump and his internally totalitarian Republican Party long downplayed the danger. He and his Fox News mouthpieces even charged that the rest of the media was sounding the alarm to discredit him, when the stock market began to fall as a result of the danger to the economy. Fox commentators said the whole thing was a “hoax”.
However, the facts about the pandemic began to be widely known. When the disruption to the national economy was becoming clear, with many workers being laid off and businesses in difficult circumstances, Trump finally switched and declared a national emergency on March 13.
Trump appeared to pay attention to his medical advisors, who advised people to keep a safe distance (2 metres) from each other and stay at home except for exercise, going to the grocery store and other needed tasks.
Hospitals, medical workers and many state governors have asked Trump to use his powers under the state of emergency to temporarily nationalise manufacturing corporations and retool them to make the needed medical equipment.
Trump has so far refused, saying, “America doesn’t do nationalisations”.
Alarmingly, Trump went into reverse on March 23, calling for businesses to start opening and for workers to return to work, with a deadline for the economy to be fully back to normal by Easter.
“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem,” he said. “Essentially we’re referring to the timing of the opening, essentially the opening of our country.”
With 16 states already in lockdown, and partial lockdowns in nine more, many governors are sounding the alarm, but other state governments are not enforcing “stay at home” at all.
On top of this, Trump is saying one thing and then the opposite, so it is no wonder the population is confused. Many people are being swept up in fear of the unknown and Trump’s false picture means his core followers are complacent.
Trump has consistently labelled the virus, not by its name, but as “the Chinese virus”. This has whipped up anti-Chinese racism among his more backward followers, with the result that many Chinese Americans (and many other Asian Americans who “look Chinese”) are reporting being given dirty looks, enduring racist remarks and assaults. There has been one stabbing.
California, where I live, is one of the states in lockdown. I stay at home except to go out to get groceries, exercise with my dog and a few other necessary tasks.
While walking my dog in my neighbourhood, I often pass a Chinese-American Christian church. Yesterday, vandals had destroyed the large, permanent sign that normally stands in front of the church.
Trump’s racism once again inspires the white nationalist extreme.
At the time of writing, Congress is debating a measure to spend two trillion dollars to ward off or ameliorate the economic recession that has begun as a result of the virus. The measure will reportedly contain funds to support workers who are laid off, help the states cope with the virus, aid small businesses that have been hard hit and other positive steps.
However, a big part of the proposal is a many-hundred-billion-dollar slush fund to bail out the giant corporations — a repeat of what was done in the “Great Recession" a decade ago. This dovetails with Trump’s focus on trying to stop the recession at the expense of the nation’s health.
Instead of containing the virus, helping the great majority of the population that is taking the brunt of the economic downturn, meeting the health needs of the epidemic right now, and spending whatever is needed to do that, Trump has reversed the priority to concentrate on bailing out the super-wealthy.
Ironically, this will only make the recession worse, as the peaking of the infections will deepen the recession, making the task of ameliorating it even harder and requiring even more huge bailouts.
When talk of a two-trillion-dollar fund began, lobbyists for the different capitalists descended on Congress to stick their snouts in the trough to get as much for them as possible.
It has recently come to light that five senators — four Republicans and one Democrat — sold millions of dollars worth of personal stocks before the crash. They were on a committee that heard a report from the CIA on February 4, predicting the progress of the pandemic and the likelihood of a big drop in the stock market.
One of them was Kelly Loeffler, a senator from Georgia. Even as she was shedding stocks and shares, she was parroting Trump. “Democrats have dangerously and intentionally misled the American people on coronavirus readiness,” she tweeted on February 28, assuring the public that the president and his team were “doing a great job working to keep Americans healthy and safe”.
Many essential workers, including medical workers, are sacrificing their health, and most people are joining together in solidarity. On my dog walks and at the grocery, I have found every person I meet expressing solidarity.
My African American next door neighbour, knowing I am 82, checked on my health and offered to help me with anything I might need as the pandemic progresses.
The pandemic is bringing out the best in almost all people, but also the worst in some, like those senators and the very wealthy seeking to profit from it.