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Why are there so many coronavirus cases in the US? Show more Show less

The US now has more COVID-19 cases than any other country in the world. But why? The virus has taken hold at an alarming speed, outpacing other nations and leading to questions over its healthcare system, economy, capacity for state intervention and policy priorities. Is its spread symptomatic of other weaknesses?

Slow American political response Show more Show less

President Trump failed to acknowledge the coronavirus as a serious public health concern until it was too late.
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President Trump chose not to act

The President claimed the threat posed by COVID-19 was exaggerated to avoid taking decisive action.
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America Trump US coronavirus economy health politics

Context

The time between the first reported American coronavirus case and government action, has been described as the 'missing six weeks'[1]. But 20 January was not just the first instance in the US - it also marked the first known case in Singapore. Yet, government response could not have been more different. While Singapore acted quickly and effectively, containing the virus before it could be become a national health crisis, the United States did not. Just two days after the announcement, Trump told CNBC“We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming from China. It’s going to be just fine."[2] This attitude characterised the American response for weeks. As other countries went into lockdown, or encouraged citizens to social distance, the US ignored advice and treated Covid as an issue only outside of its borders. The result has been devastating.

The Argument

President Trump ignored stark warnings from experts pressing for urgent action. In the aftermath of the first diagnosis, public health chiefs Luciana Borio and Scott Gottlieb wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal: 'Act Now to Prevent a Public Health Crisis'. The piece, like many others at the time, said there was still a small window in which action could make a difference. 'If public-health authorities don’t interrupt the spread soon, the virus could infect many thousands more around the globe, disrupt air travel, overwhelm health-care systems, and, worst of all, claim more lives. The good news: There’s still an opening to prevent a grim outcome.'[3]. But their call to arms fell on deaf ears. A coronavirus task force was created, and yet even this White House committee failed to understand that this was a public health issue. As Grant Hindsley revealed in the New York Times, the group 'typically devoted only five or 10 minutes, often at the end of contentious meetings, to talk about testing, several participants recalled'[4]. Had Trump taken the virus seriously from the outset, the crisis could have been avoided. Instead the US, 'armed with some of the most highly trained scientists and infectious disease specialists — squandered its best chance of containing the virus’s spread... Americans were left largely blind to the scale of a looming public health catastrophe.'[4].

Counter arguments

It is only in hindsight that the President's response appears slow. At the time of the first US outbreak, several other countries had also yet to take steps to combat the spread. The UK, for example, took a 'herd immunity' approach. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson based this soft approach on the possibility of '“behavioral fatigue”—if restrictions come into force too early, people could become increasingly uncooperative and less vigilant, just as the outbreak swings into high gear'[5]. At this point, other European nations had already introduced strict lockdown measures. The dangers were evident. And yet, this strategy sustained for weeks. Trump cannot be held accountable for the spread. He was hardly the only international leader to realise just how destructive the virus would become, until it was arguably too late.

Framing

Premises

[P1] The virus poses a serious threat to public health [P2] The government did not acknowledge the virus as a serious threat [P3] Any serious threat to public health requires political action [P4] No political action was taken at the time of the outbreak

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] The government understood the virus was a serious threat, hence the assembling of the coronavirus task force.

Proponents

Further Reading

References

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/28/trump-coronavirus-politics-us-health-disaster
  2. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/22/trump-on-coronavirus-from-china-we-have-it-totally-under-control.html
  3. https://www.wsj.com/articles/act-now-to-prevent-an-american-epidemic-11580255335
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/28/us/testing-coronavirus-pandemic.html
  5. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-pandemic-herd-immunity-uk-boris-johnson/608065/

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This page was last edited on Wednesday, 1 Apr 2020 at 09:44 UTC