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Did the United States prepare enough for the coronavirus outbreak?
I am starting to question the United States response to the coronavirus, or COVID-19, as it is also known. While the markets continue to sell off, the US government, hospitals, and the average person, all seem somewhat complacent. I also think this applies to Europe and other parts of the world, where everyone was more interested in keeping travel open and minimal screening measures.
Let me first say that this is not a political post about President Trump. I think this goes far beyond him. Many of these government officials, at all levels, have been working forever in their respective jobs. Many are just complacent and too comfortable in their civil service positions. Local, State, and Federal leaders all had time to prepare. I think any other President might have had this same response we currently have, or an even worse response. Though I do think if this goes badly that President Trump will not get reelected.
I have closely followed the coronavirus since early January. I first posted about it to friends on social media on January 20th, with an article from Bloomberg saying that two were dead, and hospital workers had contracted the virus. I don’t think anybody really cared or paid attention to my little post. My gut told me this was going to be something much bigger, and I guess that intuition was right.
Let me jump back to those points I made in the opening paragraph. I will list and expand on them below:
1) Government. The United States government has had over seven weeks, or so, to prepare. Yet, just now they are scrambling to fix their virus testing kit screw up. The kits they sent did not work, not only that, there are not even near enough of the broken or working ones to go around. As of today half the country does not even have testing kits, including New York City. The FBI just put a face mask order in a week ago, instead of a month ago. They also realize now how short we are on basic items that first responders and other will need. This goes all the way down to the state and local level, nothing was stopping your local officials from ordering these supplies, instead most of them just sat around watching China try to contain it on the news for the past month. The government also claims they stopped some China flights and monitored certain people, at first one, then five airports. However, they did this too late, were too lax with the screening, and as the virus spread they did not quickly cut off people from those newly infected countries arriving in the US. They should have acted faster and much more robustly.
2) Hospitals and Media. I saw a number of people who work in the Medical field post the same things. Mostly a USA Today article about how the Flu is worse than coronavirus. Many media and news outlets also reported the same story over and over. Trying to compare the seasonal flu to the new coronavirus was a diservice to the average person, and often disingenuous. My guess is these same Doctors, Nurses, and Newscasters will soon be scrambling for supplies, and if this thing explodes, they will pretend they never said not to worry about it.
3) Average Person. I have gone out over the past week and collected some extra food, medications, and other supplies. I have seen very few people doing the same. The average American is complacent. We watch China shut down cities on our TV, and say how that could never happen here. We read that the flu is worse, so who cares. Or even worse, the average person in the US doesn’t read or watch anything news related, and is too busy doing other things, like watching reality TV shows.
We still have yet to see how some businesses and schools respond to the US outbreak. For example, Starbucks shut most of their stores in China and claimed it was for the health of employees. Will they do the same in the US, or was that just because nobody in China was going out anyway? Schools in China, Japan, and Korea are shut down for months, will the United States do that right away now that we have cases, or just wait and see?
Some will say that it is impossible to stop travel, or that you can’t close borders in this global environment. But in truth, we can do it. It just comes down to what was more important for all of us. Do we allow people to travel on business and pleasure into countries knowing that there is a significant chance it will spread, make many sick, and kill a large number of our elderly population? Or, is it more important for people to not get sick and live and we shut down travel. Or if allowed, the screenings and isolation remain airtight. We definitely could have done much more on that front. Commerce and the stock markets went down anyway. Gold, a defensive play, is at all time highs. So maybe we should have paid more attention to our borders, travel, and containing the virus at all costs. And not worried about everything else.
I am not here to monday morning quarterback every decision, or to fearmonger. We still do not know what is in store or the final outcome. But at this point, things do not look good. While 80 percent of people who get the virus will be ok, it still leaves 20 percent in serious or critical condition. Our only hope is that this does not spread more easily than the flu and the death rate is even lower than predicted.