The U.S. now has both the most cases of COVID-19 (over a million) and the most deaths caused by the virus (over 60,000), according to the CDC. Masks for first responders and testing kits are still in woefully short supply. Unemployment is at its highest level since the Great Depression and the virus has killed more people this month than the flu kills in a year, on average, as cited by the New York Times. And through it all, our current administration’s response to the rapidly escalating pandemic has been slow, confusing and, at times, even detrimental.
There are actions the U.S. administration could have taken to prevent some of these deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency on January 30, shortly after the first case arrived in the United States, but our President minimized the dangers of the virus, contrary to experts’ warnings.
Just ten days before the WHO’s statement, President Trump said, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control.” But he was wrong.
The often contradictory and medically-dubious statements the federal government releases now fail to provide consistent and accurate information to the public. President Trump frequently ignored the guidelines by the CDC and WHO, even spreading misinformation about citizens’ protection. Despite the CDC encouraging Americans to avoid public places and stay at home as much as possible, Trump said that the economy could reopen by Easter (which it, fortunately, didn’t) and tweeted to “liberate” Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia, inciting citizens protesting the stay-at-home orders. He touted the benefits of the malaria medicine hydroxychloroquine, despite the Food and Drug Administration issuing a warning against the drug. He suggested injecting disinfectant into our veins or using ultraviolet lights could kill the virus in a recent White House briefing. While he later said these comments were sarcastic, he brushed over the fact that his “sarcasm” could have led desperate citizens to do rash and even fatal things.
Now, as states are considering reopening, the administration needs to take decisive action to help those whose lives have been torn apart by the virus and focus on alleviating the economic hardship state lockdowns have caused. Fortune reported that 26.5 million people have filed for unemployment insurance, and that the unemployment rate is more than 25 percent.
Economist Paul Krugman explained, “The immediate mission, beyond an all-out effort to contain the pandemic itself, should instead be disaster relief: generous aid to those suffering a sudden loss of income as a result of the economy’s lockdown.” President Trump ought to leave the medical theorizing (see: disinfectant injection) to the experts and focus on passing policies to ameliorate unemployment and providing more regular food stamps and stimulus checks. While the CARES Act—an emergency relief program that gave 2 trillion dollars to citizens, businesses, and state and local governments—has provided some economic relief to small businesses and the unemployed, it is not enough. The stimulus check allocated to many Americans may not reach them for weeks or even months. The same goes for unemployment benefits, as many state offices are delayed by the large influx of unemployment claims in recent weeks. The Act also fails to provide enough help to state governments, many of whom are struggling to manage their funds while having to provide essential services for their residents. Many governors have said that they are finding it difficult to obtain testing kits on their own, with some states even having to bid against each other for them. The federal government needs to either provide these tests themselves or back states financially as they figure out how to get the tests. While the administration needs to do other things to ensure robust social protection, more accessible stimulus checks and more money or tests provided to the states would be a start.
The administration should stop spreading misinformation and work comprehensively to ameliorate this pandemic as much as possible for all of its citizens going forward. While this quarantine continues, it is more important than ever to come together as a country and get past it together. But it is also important to remember that it did not need to be nearly this bad.