As the U.S. death toll from Covid-19 approaches the latest milestone of 215,000, it amazes some that the faithful are still coming out to cheer on the politicians who bear more responsibility for U.S. exceptionalism on the virus death front than any others. Like those who came to fete King Saul for the killing of Philistines in the Book of Samuel, this crowd should clutch their bibles firmly and call out “Pence has killed his thousands, and Trump his tens of thousands.”
Is it fair to lay the blame for tens of thousands of deaths in this pandemic at the feet of our political leaders. Absolutely. The Columbia University study that concluded that 54,000 deaths could have been avoided had the U.S. begun lockdowns and social distancing two weeks earlier than it did (New York Times, May 20) picked up only part of an iceberg at least twice as large. Instead of immediately testing people coming into the U.S. from China, Italy, and other countries, the administration adopted blunt, racist restrictions on entry to the country by Chinese citizens while still permitting thousands of U.S. travelers to return from China with minimal screening, and tens of thousands of Americans, Italians and others to bring Covid-19 into the United States with the feeblest of efforts to control transmission. Members of my own family returned from China to the U.S. in early February without temperature check or questions, much less a recommendation that they monitor their health or practice some self-isolation, which they nonetheless did out of an abundance of caution.
In the weeks that followed, Trump was on the airwaves constantly boasting that the U.S. has the world’s best healthcare system and that plenty of testing is available. Next to nothing was done to ramp up production of test kits and PPE between the time that China itself locked down in late January and when recommendation of local lockdowns of some U.S. cities began in mid-March. Meanwhile, countries including South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand, countries supposedly far behind the U.S. when it comes to our amazing healthcare system, built testing regimes, systems for screening and restricting arrivals from abroad, or encouraged mask-wearing, keeping their Covid-19 deaths to date to below .005 per 1000 of their populations, versus America’s 0.371 per 1000 rate, seventy-four times as high a rate. Had the U.S. held its death rate to that of South Korea, a country located practically next door to China and with intense trade and travel links, the present U.S. death toll would stand at 1,641, at least 121,000 less than have died thus far.
Analysis by the New York Times concurs that most of the deaths that have occurred thus far in the United States can be attributed to policy missteps by our officials. Should we hold the administration accountable for the loss of a greater number of Americans than in the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars combined? Certainly not, if we remain convinced that the U.S. has the world’s greatest healthcare system, and if we refuse to let facts stand in the way of our beliefs. Let’s sit quietly by and hold our bibles in hand as the U.S. resumes business as usual and our death toll climbs further. As our President (the one whose authority is total but whose responsibility is nil) might put it, wasting time thinking about deaths from a mere virus is for cry-babies and losers.