Scientists warned that one day the United States would become the country most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. That moment came on Thursday.
In the United States, according to the New York Times, at least 81,321 people are infected with the corona virus, including more than 1,000 deaths – more cases than in China, Italy or another country.
With 330 million inhabitants, the United States is the third largest nation in the world, which means that it offers a huge pool of people who may develop Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
A series of missteps and missed opportunities have followed the nation’s response. Among other things: a failure to take the pandemic seriously, even though it devoured China, a deeply flawed effort to carry out extensive tests for the virus that blinded the country to the scale of the crisis, and a terrible lack of masks and protective equipment to protect it Doctors and nurses at the forefront as well as ventilators to keep the seriously ill alive.
China’s leaders, who were hit by the SARS epidemic and several avian influenza epidemics in 2003, were slow to respond to the outbreak that started in Wuhan City when local officials suppressed the news of the outbreak.
But China’s autocratic government acted wildly after the late start, eventually closing parts of the country. Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan quickly prepared for the worst.
Instead, the United States continued to do business usually. Impeachment proceedings. Harvey Weinstein. Brexit and the Oscars.
Few virologists recognized the threat to what it was. The virus was not an influenza, but had the characteristics of the Spanish flu: relatively low lethality, but relentlessly transferable.
Mobile phone videos leaving China showed what was spreading in Wuhan: corpses on hospital floors, frustrated doctors crying, rows of unattended coffins in front of the crematoriums.
What the cameras missed – also because Beijing made life difficult for Western journalists by holding visas and imposing quarantines – was the slow, relentless way that China’s public health system used the virus on a case-by-case basis, cluster by cluster, city by city City chased.
At least for the time being, China has used draconian measures to contain the corona virus. But the pathogen had started a major tour of most countries with devastating epidemics in Iran, Italy and France. Other videos showed prostate victims, exhausted nurses and coffin rows.
The United States that should be ready was not. This country has an unmatched medical system backed by trillions of dollars from insurers, Medicare and Medicaid. Armies of doctors transplant hearts and cure cancer.
The public health system, limping on local tax revenue, kills mosquitoes and tracks the contacts of people with sexually transmitted diseases. It was surpassed by the pandemic.
There was no Pentagon ready to wage war against this pandemic, no wartime draft law. Finally, there was a White House coronavirus task force, but it was led by politicians, not medical experts.
The disease control and prevention centers are one of the largest disease detective agencies worldwide, and their doctors have been instrumental in battles against Ebola, Zika, and a number of other health threats.
But the agency retreated into silence, its director, Dr. Robert Redfield, almost invisible – humiliated by a fiasco for failing to create basic diagnostic tests.
At least 160 million Americans have now been instructed to stay at home in states from California to New York. The schools are closed, often together with bars, restaurants and many other shops. Hospitals are dealing with an increasing number of patients in New York City, even if the supply of important protective equipment and items of equipment is declining.
Other hospitals, other communities fear what might come.
The world will be a different place when the pandemic is over. India could outperform the United States as the country with the most deaths. Like the United States, it is a huge democracy with deep internal divisions. But its population, 1.3 billion, is much larger, and his people are more tightly packed into megacities.
China could still enter into a new round of contagion when its economy restarts and be forced to do it all over again.
In the meantime, if the virus is on the streets with millions of Americans crowded inside, when will it be safe to come out and go back to work?
“The virus will tell us,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a preventive medicine specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical School.
If a daily test base is established nationwide, a decrease in the percentage of positive tests means that the virus has found as many hosts as possible at the moment and is gradually declining.
When hospital admissions have peaked and plateaued, “we can feel optimistic,” said Dr. Conductor. “And when they start falling, we can start smiling.”
That moment could come this summer. But as soon as the first American leaves carefully, we have to start planning for the second wave.
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