Defeating COVID will require leadership and courage

As the U.S. passed the grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths,
 it stood naked before an astonished world.

Despite massive spending on health, 
the American government and its healthcare institutions have managed 
to mount one of the world’s worst responses to the global pandemic.

By the numbers: Despite having just 4.3% of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for 22% of COVID-19 cases and 21% of deaths globally. More than 1,000 U.S. healthcare workers have died from COVID-19.

The latest projections show the U.S. adding anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 more names to this monument to malfeasance by the end of October. Before year-end, we’ll likely surpass 300,000 deaths with no end in sight.

While the virus rages out of control, the nation’s CEO is stoking resistance to proven public health approaches to limiting its spread. Meanwhile, in most parts of Western Europe and East Asia, governments and their people have adopted the necessary protective measures, and economic life is turning toward normal.

The pandemic has also revealed, for all the world to see, a U.S. that remains among the most racist societies on earth. The still-uncontrolled virus is taking its greatest toll on minority communities. The government is doing nothing to address this glaring inequity.

By the numbers: African Americans make up just 12.5% of the population, yet account for fully 21% of COVID deaths. Hispanics make up 18.5% of the population and 21% of deaths. White people, on the other hand, make up half of deaths despite making up about 60% of the total population.

It’s not hard to understand why COVID-19 takes its biggest toll on minorities. They are disproportionately poorer.

Many are crammed into close quarters. Fewer work from home. They are more likely to work in essential jobs, often without the protective equipment needed to perform those tasks safely.

They also experience greater stress in daily life, and are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions that render people more vulnerable to COVID.

Rather than address these issues, President Donald Trump, through his rhetoric and actions in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, has heightened the stress in minority communities.

The pandemic has also revealed the U.S. to be among the most ageist societies on earth. The pandemic cut a deadly path through the nation’s nursing homes. 

By the numbers: Nearly 80% of all deaths from COVID-19 are over 65. If we throw in the 55-to-64 cohort, the number rises to more than 90%.

I’m a senior and I live in Chicago, a city the president likes to pick on. I’m surprised he didn’t include it on the list of cities he unconstitutionally threatened to defund last week because of the alleged uncontrolled anarchy in their streets.

When I go outside, I don’t see anarchy. I see nearly vacant restaurants, many empty storefronts, and shuttered theaters and music halls—all once filled with chattering gray heads spending their retirement dollars. 

Memo to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell: None of my senior friends plan to resume any of those activities until we get the virus under control. If you want to know when this deep recession will end, just monitor the daily data on COVID-19 cases and deaths.

It’s never too late to turn the situation around. Writing this month in Foreign Affairs, epidemiologist Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota and a colleague estimated it would take just two months of tough lockdown measures to get the coronavirus under control—even without a vaccine.

All it takes is leadership, the willingness to admit past errors, and the courage to abandon the false notion that personal liberty trumps everyone else’s right to breathe free from fear. 


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