Ariana A. Berengaut: Democracies Are Better At Fighting Outbreaks
The coronavirus—and the measures enacted to stop it—could quickly change the rhythms of Americans’ daily lives. The United States is seeing its first deaths, first emergency declarations, first school closings, first mandatory work-at-home policies. If the number of COVID-19 cases spikes quickly, hospitals could soon be deluged with patients seeking care. This is a predictable consequence of any epidemic, but few Americans’ personal experience gives them any reason to understand how disruptive these changes could be if the epidemic continues to worsen.
Ironically, the officials now urging citizens to keep calm understand far more acutely than the general public how much else can go wrong. A municipal police chief in the Boston area recently urged me to imagine that a school district closed for even three weeks. Take just one child, raised by a single parent who is a police officer. The child is home, so the parent must stay home. Other officers in the same patrol will be affected even if they don’t have kids in school. Shifts will change, nonessential functions will be put off, and the department will have less flexibility to respond to problems unrelated to the epidemic—even as, with more teens unsupervised, rates of car accidents and certain crimes could well increase.
Emergency-response officials are hesitant to play out these dangers in public. This police chief asked me not to identify him because, like so many others in positions of responsibility, he worries that misgivings like his will become self-fulfilling prophecies—that citizens will panic if their local authorities give voice to their own doubts.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and his administration have vacillated between ignoring the threat and making wildly unrealistic promises about it. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence promised 1.5 million coronavirus tests, but The Atlantic reported Friday that, according to all available evidence, fewer than 2,000 had been conducted in the United States. Trump himself is simply lying about basic facts about the COVID-19 response; despite the testing kit shortfall, he has publicly stated that everyone who wants to get tested can get tested.
Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes: Trump’s Playbook Is Terribly Ill-Suited to a Pandemic
China’s aggressive containment of the new virus in the early weeks of this year gave other nations time to ready themselves for what was inevitably going to come: a shortage of test kits and personal protective equipment for a virus that spreads as quickly and causes as many deaths and hospitalizations as COVID-19 does.
The United States wasted that opportunity. Trump’s initial impulse to downplay the risk, at least until the stock market took note, wasn’t just fanciful; it was dangerous. He has consistently minimized the number of sick, blamed Barack Obama’s administration for a shortage of test kits, and publicly mused about the potential of a vaccine being found quickly. The American response to the new disease should be based on something more than hunches and magical thinking.