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The US coronavirus response: Have we done enough or not?

By Rachel Segal
 Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino/Unsplash
*Updated 2021
Today, as coronavirus cases continue to rise around the world, life goes on, however altered. This debate looks at America’s nationwide response to COVID-19 and whether it has been proportionate to the physical and mental health risks involved. We can’t underestimate the economic fallout and consequent (and extended) harm to people’s livelihoods that the lockdowns and closures have unintentionally had – despite their importance. Yet, we can tentatively ask whether US coronavirus response efforts have been sufficient or not.
Here are three reasons why America has not done enough to address the pandemic and three more reasons to show that it has done enough.

 

Not Doing Enough

 

Why not mandate masks?

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), among other esteemed institutions, have proven that social distancing and wearing face masks prevent exposure to and spread of the coronavirus. It is therefore questionable why America did not require by law face masks to be worn in public nationwide, as was mandated in numerous other countries.

Instead, the federal government left it up to state governors to decide. Of those who did require face masks in 37 states (as of January 2021), most have not legally enforced compliance statewide. Only now, one year after the pandemic began, President Biden has signed an executive order to mandate mask-wearing for federal employees as well as visitors while on federal lands or when traveling. Time will tell if and how it will be enforced.

 

Act now

During the peak of the pandemic in March and April 2020, at least 300 hospitals in cities across America faced severe shortages of vital medical supplies and protective gear. The Trump administration could have immediately invoked the Defense Production Act, which was enacted during the Korean War to ensure that the US had enough supplies and weapons for its war efforts. It had routinely used this Act before the pandemic to secure supplies for natural disaster relief and for the military.

However, one month into the pandemic, former President Trump chose not to invoke the Act, claiming it was only for a “worst case scenario” and that he was wary of nationalizing the business sector.

 

Throw a lifeline

At the end of March 2020, former President Trump signed bipartisan legislation to send one-time relief payments to American families to help them through the pandemic. There were also loans for small businesses and expanded unemployment benefits.  While undeniably helpful, as more time passed and temporary closures or layoffs became permanent, Congress let the unemployment benefits end and unnecessarily stalled on passing an additional $900 billion relief bill just days before a federal shutdown loomed.

Such delayed left the more than 12.5 million unemployed Americans  increasingly desperate to find ways to care for their families. More than 22 million jobs disappeared during (or because of) the spring lockdown.

 

Doing Enough 

 

America’s robust testing program didn’t just appear out of nowhere

The more people tested, the earlier the coronavirus is identified, leading to medical intervention – and self-quarantine, which slows its spread. At the beginning of summer 2020, testing had reached 500,000 people a day, and it has since more than doubled. America is carrying out more COVID-19 tests than any other country. US public health departments and both public and private labs are all working together to expand lab capacity and to get the word out to both symptomatic and asymptomatic people. In addition, President Biden has announced plans to expand testing even further and to remove cost barriers to preventative treatment and care.

 

Scientific and medical breakthroughs

It’s easy to lose sight of how far the medical and scientific fields have advanced in such a short time. Look at vaccine advancements. In comparison, the polio epidemic hit New York in 1916 and continued ravaging the public until the mid-1950s when a polio vaccine was introduced. According to the World Economic Forum, it usually takes around 10 years for a vaccine to be researched, developed, tested, approved and manufactured. Of that, the first 2-5 years are for discovery research alone.  Today, scientific researchers and pharmaceutical companies have worked at unprecedented speed to create a vaccine. Some companies, like Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have already introduced their vaccinations into the world, while other companies are not far behind – less than 1 year into the pandemic. The extremely high standards and levels of transparency they maintained in their quest are equally impressive.

 

Historic efforts to minimize economic fallout

As mentioned above, at the beginning of the pandemic, the federal government signed the CARES ACT, which provided vital monetary assistance (between $2-$2.2 trillion) to American families, businesses and local governments. The government established the paycheck protection program, the largest investment in America’s small businesses to date, issuing $513 billion worth of small business loans with very flexible payback and debt relief options. While the latter did not fully succeed in meeting its targets, it did help many businesses meet their payroll demands. The subsequent (if delayed) $900 billion pandemic relief bill signed at the end of 2020 and President Biden’s promise of additional economic relief in the coming year are also noteworthy. Even if the government’s stimulus plans didn’t reach all of their intended recipients or meet everyone’s economic needs, what is inarguable is that these bipartisan attempts have been historic in the sums dispersed and the relatively short time it took for execution.

 

The Bottom Line: While learning to live with the virus and adjusting to a new normal, the question is whether the way forward is to continue with past and current restrictions or to ease them a bit so as to prevent more unintended harm. How have you protected your physical and mental health during the pandemic?

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