Failed businesses and lost loved ones, empty theme parks and socially distanced funerals, a struggling economy and an unmitigated public-health disaster: This is the worst-of-both-worlds equilibrium the United States finds itself in.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump has railed against shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, tweeting in all caps that “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself” and pushing for employees to get back to work and businesses to get back to business. But the country has failed to get the virus under control, through masks, contact tracing, mass testing, or any of the other strategies other countries have tried and found successful. That has kneecapped the nascent recovery, and raised the possibility that the unemployment rate, which eased in May and June after nearly reaching 15 percent in April, could spike again later this year.
The economy seized in unprecedented terms this spring as states and cities mandated lockdowns. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed, and millions of workers were furloughed or laid off. But instead of setting up a national viral-control strategy during this time, as other rich countries did, the United States did close to nothing. Congress underfunded disease research and contact-tracing efforts. No federal agency coordinated the procurement of personal protective equipment. Months into the pandemic, health professionals were still reusing masks for days at a time. The Trump administration punted responsibility for public-health management to the states, each tipping into a budgetary crisis. After a springtime peak, caseloads declined only modestly. Outbreaks seeded across the country. States reopened, and counts exploded again.