Botched COVID-19 response reveals U.S. political divisiveness, institutional failure

(Xinhua) 10:44, December 08, 2021

People wait at a mobile COVID-19 vaccination site in the Brooklyn borough of New York, the United States, Nov. 19, 2021. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua)

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 (Xinhua) -- When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, few in the United States had anticipated the virus would infect millions of people across the country. Nearly two years later, the pandemic figures remain bleak, reminding the U.S. public that the tragedy is still unfolding.

In a country that has been considered the most developed one in the world with a leading health system, the plight of the people is mainly a result of the government's botched COVID-19 response, another testament to the dysfunction of U.S. democracy.


According to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, the country's COVID-19-related death toll topped 789,000 with over 49.2 million cases as of Tuesday.

Many factors are at play in this year's alarming surge of COVID-19 deaths, such as lower-than-expected vaccination rates, fatigue with precautionary measures and the rampant spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Approximately 90,000 COVID-19 deaths could have been avoided over four months from June this year if more U.S. adults had chosen to get vaccinated, found a study released in October by the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data tracker, unvaccinated people are six times more likely to test positive for the virus, nine times more likely to be hospitalized, and 14 times more likely to die.

What is worse, there is no consensus in the country on masking, vaccination and other mitigation measures, in the wake of partisan divide, political polarization and disrespect for science during the prolonged COVID-19 crisis, health experts said.

"The pandemic has proved to be a nearly two-year stress test that the United States flunked, with an already distrustful populace exposed to a level of institutional failure that added fuel to the angry battles over how to respond," said Zeynep Tufekci, an opinion columnist, in an article in The New York Times.

The United States is "bankrupt" in trust as its people have lost confidence during the pandemic, the columnist said, citing Martin Cetron, a CDC veteran of battles against Ebola in Africa.

"America's pandemic playbook assumed the U.S. could take collective action. The country proved that wrong," correspondent German Lopez wrote in a story posted on news website Vox.

"Whenever collective action is called for, Americans don't do it -- or, at the very least, don't do it sufficiently. America is too politicized, fractured, and, above all, individualistic for a collective move to save it," said Lopez.

While Washington did manage to lock down at first, those lockdowns soon gave way to protests. Not long after the CDC recommended masking and most states adopted the advice into mask mandates, "masks became political symbols as many Americans rejected wearing one often, if at all," Lopez wrote.

"America's federalist structure also makes collective action, handed down from the federal level, extremely difficult. That's the context in which one very loud politician or a handful of contrarian states have managed to throw the collective project into chaos over the last year and a half," he said.

With the absence of a national strategy at the federal level, states and cities were largely left on their own in battling the pandemic in a disjointed, piecemeal fashion, which proved to be significantly inadequate.


The most important reason behind the botched U.S. response to the pandemic is "the influence of the (Donald) Trump presidency, when there was a long sequence of policy and communication failures and a refusal to use the resources of the federal government to control the spread," Clay Ramsay, a researcher at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Christopher Galdieri, assistant professor at Saint Anselm College, expressed a similar opinion. "Public health officials were making recommendations about social distancing, masking, and so on, but these were simultaneously being undercut by Donald Trump and many in his administration," said Galdieri.

New emails and documents released in November by a Congressional committee investigating the Trump administration's handling of the pandemic revealed how in early 2020, the White House downplayed the deadly danger posed by the nascent COVID-19 pandemic, silencing and sidelining top health officials who had tried to warn the public, and destroying evidence of political interference while issuing rosy declarations that the outbreak was "totally under control" and would soon be over.

Forty percent of the roughly 450,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States as of Feb. 4 this year could have been avoided if the country had handled the pandemic similarly to its wealthy peers, a report released by The Lancet Commission on Public Policy and Health in the Trump Era has said.

The report also pointed to four decades of "long-standing flaws in U.S. economic, health, and social policy" that had compounded inefficiencies in the country's public-health systems before the pandemic.

The political firefight around COVID-19 is only getting more intense with a growing death toll and cases, and the Omicron variant now detected in at least 16 states.

GOP leaders have "put the fault squarely" on U.S. President Joe Biden, accusing him of politicizing the crisis with vaccine mandates while failing to honor a central campaign promise of bringing the virus under control, according to a report posted on the website of The Hill.

Democrats argue that Republicans, from Trump to his most vocal allies in Congress and in state capitals, "bear plenty of responsibility for public resistance to masks and vaccines, noting the opposition to those leading mitigation efforts comes overwhelmingly from the right," said the report.

Republicans have mounted challenges to Biden's vaccine mandates across the country, accusing the Biden administration of overstepping its authority.

Most recently, judges in the states of Missouri and Louisiana have issued separate rulings blocking Biden's mandate for certain healthcare staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 while court cases play out. Under the rule, healthcare staff were supposed to receive their first shot prior to Dec. 6 and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 next year.

As to vaccination, partisan differences have become only more pronounced, said a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Among adults identified as Democrats, 90 percent said they have received at least one dose of the vaccine, versus 61 percent of Republicans.

A recent Kaiser Health News review of hundreds of pieces of legislation found that in all 50 states, legislators have proposed bills to curb such public health powers since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

While some governors have vetoed bills that passed, at least 26 states pushed through laws that permanently weaken government authority to protect public health, according to the review.

As of Monday, 60 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated, and 23.6 percent of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster shot, according to CDC data.

(Web editor: Peng yukai, Liang Jun)


Related Stories