Dying in a Leadership Vacuum
Covid-19 has created a crisis throughout the world. This crisis has produced a test of leadership. With no good options to combat a novel pathogen, countries were forced to make hard choices about how to respond. Here in the United States, our leaders have failed that test. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.
[OCS: One might note that to have a test, one must have an objective list of criteria that can be scored. No such list exists, and if it did, it was not the President of the United States that was responsible for the outcome – any more than the newsreader is responsible for the impact of the news being reported. Furthermore, comparisons between various political entities are statistically flawed as the United States represents an incomparable entity on a number of levels. Yes, many of our leaders, mostly Governors, and Mayors, have failed their constituencies.]
The magnitude of this failure is astonishing. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the United States leads the world in Covid-19 cases and in deaths due to the disease, far exceeding the numbers in much larger countries, such as China.
[OCS: It should be noted that the use of the word “cases” could mean anything from a botched test to someone who was retroactively tested and found to be “positive.” Even the number of deaths is questionable, especially in light of the non-uniformity of the reporting requirements and the government’s financial incentives to label cases, without evidence, as being related to COVID-19 among the most vulnerable cohort, senior citizens on Medicare. As for other countries, one must also accept their discrepancies and deceptions in enumerating their statistics.]
The death rate in this country is more than double that of Canada. It exceeds that of Japan, a country with a vulnerable and elderly population, by a factor of almost 50, and even dwarfs the rates in lower-middle-income countries, such as Vietnam, by a factor of almost 2000.
[OCS: Considering the sparsity of Canada’s population, asymptomatic patients that did not seek medical intervention, and homogenous and obedient nature of Asian countries, these are not suitable comparisons.]
Covid-19 is an overwhelming challenge, and many factors contribute to its severity. But the one we can control is how we behave. And in the United States we have consistently behaved poorly.
We know that we could have done better. China, faced with the first outbreak, chose strict quarantine and isolation after an initial delay. These measures were severe but effective, essentially eliminating transmission at the point where the outbreak began and reducing the death rate to a reported 3 per million, as compared with more than 500 per million in the United States.
[OCS: Hindsight is always so clear and unambiguous. Are they suggesting that it is moral and ethical to weld the doors of apartment buildings shut to contain its residents?]
Countries that had far more exchange with China, such as Singapore and South Korea, began intensive testing early, along with aggressive contact tracing and appropriate isolation, and have had relatively small outbreaks. And New Zealand has used these same measures, together with its geographic advantages, to come close to eliminating the disease, something that has allowed that country to limit the time of closure and to largely reopen society to a prepandemic level. In general, not only have many democracies done better than the United States, but they have also outperformed us by orders of magnitude.
Why has the United States handled this pandemic so badly? We have failed at almost every step. We had ample warning, but when the disease first arrived, we were incapable of testing effectively and couldn’t provide even the most basic personal protective equipment to health care workers and the general public.
[OCS: I seem to recall that a maskless House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was inviting people to congregate in San Francisco’s Chinatown in February of 2020 while the Democrats labeled the President's curtailment of China travel as racist and xenophobic.
The failure of testing was clearly on the shoulders of government bureaucrats who pre-existed the Trump Administration. And, it was not the duty of the federal government to be the PPE vendor of choice to compensate for the inadequacy of PPE at the state level.]
And we continue to be way behind the curve in testing. While the absolute numbers of tests have increased substantially, the more useful metric is the number of tests performed per infected person, a rate that puts us far down the international list, below such places as Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia, countries that cannot boast the biomedical infrastructure or the manufacturing capacity that we have. Moreover, a lack of emphasis on developing capacity has meant that U.S. test results are often long delayed, rendering the results useless for disease control.
[OCS: Testing is useless as a person can be infected the very next day and shrug-off mild symptoms as a cold or the flu. And again, with specious comparisons.]
Although we tend to focus on technology, most of the interventions that have large effects are not complicated. The United States instituted quarantine and isolation measures late and inconsistently, often without any effort to enforce them, after the disease had spread substantially in many communities. Our rules on social distancing have in many places been lackadaisical at best, with loosening of restrictions long before adequate disease control had been achieved. And in much of the country, people simply don’t wear masks, largely because our leaders have stated outright that masks are political tools rather than effective infection control measures. The government has appropriately invested heavily in vaccine development, but its rhetoric has politicized the development process and led to growing public distrust.
The United States came into this crisis with enormous advantages. Along with tremendous manufacturing capacity, we have a biomedical research system that is the envy of the world. We have enormous expertise in public health, health policy, and basic biology and have consistently been able to turn that expertise into new therapies and preventive measures. And much of that national expertise resides in government institutions. Yet our leaders have largely chosen to ignore and even denigrate experts.
[OCS: Some trash-talking experts, yes. Some experts who would sacrifice our economy in return for authoritarian control, yes. Some who overstepped their authority and acted as if they were the President of the United States, yes.]
The response of our nation’s leaders has been consistently inadequate. The federal government has largely abandoned disease control to the states. Governors have varied in their responses, not so much by party as by competence. But whatever their competence, governors do not have the tools that Washington controls. Instead of using those tools, the federal government has undermined them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was the world’s leading disease response organization, has been eviscerated and has suffered dramatic testing and policy failures. The National Institutes of Health have played a key role in vaccine development but have been excluded from much crucial government decision making. And the Food and Drug Administration has been shamefully politicized, appearing to respond to pressure from the administration rather than scientific evidence. Our current leaders have undercut trust in science and in government, causing damage that will certainly outlast them. Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed “opinion leaders” and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies.
Let’s be clear about the cost of not taking even simple measures. An outbreak that has disproportionately affected communities of color has exacerbated the tensions associated with inequality.
[OCS: Progressive class warfare and the politics of race have little or nothing to do with the spread of disease until you note the wealthy, the Hollywood elite, and the politically-connected will always have better protection than the poor and disadvantaged.]
Many of our children are missing school at critical times in their social and intellectual development. The hard work of health care professionals, who have put their lives on the line, has not been used wisely. Our current leadership takes pride in the economy, but while most of the world has opened up to some extent, the United States still suffers from disease rates that have prevented many businesses from reopening, with a resultant loss of hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs.
[OCS: The federal government did not shut down our nation; it was the state governors and mayors of municipalities. They could have quickly suggested that we protect the most vulnerable cohort, senior citizens, and those with co-morbidities and allowed others to go about their business with commonsense protections.]
And more than 200,000 Americans have died. Some deaths from Covid-19 were unavoidable. But, although it is impossible to project the precise number of additional American lives lost because of weak and inappropriate government policies, it is at least in the tens of thousands in a pandemic that has already killed more Americans than any conflict since World War II.
[OCS: Likewise, the experts cannot tell us how many people, many of them senior citizens, would have died in the ordinary course of the cycle of life. Or, by comparison, how many die of various cases of flu and types of pneumonia that were labeled as COVID-related?]
Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs. <Source>
[OCS: I concur. There are many Democrat Mayors and Governors who have assumed dictatorial authoritarian powers and who have crippled their communities and their constituencies. Remove them all from office. Sounds like a plan – unworkable 30-days from an election.]