On Thursday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States reached 81,321 — surging past other hard-hit countries like China and Italy to become the new epicenter of the pandemic, according to the New York Times.
The vast majority of those infected by the novel coronavirus recover. Nevertheless, U.S. deaths from COVID-19 have hit 1,000, a number that has increased at an exponential rate and is alarming to healthcare professionals already stretched thin by the sudden influx of hospitalizations. Of those who’ve died, about 65 percent were over 70 years old and almost 40 percent were over 80. The Washington Post, which compiled these statistics, cautioned that ages have not been reported for every COVID-19-related death in the U.S.
There are a number of reasons the U.S. was poised to be particularly hard hit by COVID-19. With 330 million residents, the country is the third most populated on earth, and global hubs like New York City and Los Angeles are densely packed, making it easier for the virus to spread.
The White House was slow to act, dismissing warnings from experts well into March and confusing state governments with mixed messaging. And now, a shortage of supplies like facemasks for healthcare workers and ventilators for patients is frustrating the U.S. response to the pandemic.
“This could have been stopped by implementing testing and surveillance much earlier — for example, when the first imported cases were identified,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University in New York, told The Times. “If these are the cases we’ve confirmed, how many cases are we still missing?”
Like the U.S., China was slow to respond to news of the outbreak and has been accused of burying early reports. However, Chinese officials course-corrected early, pivoting to dramatic shutdowns that turned the country’s fortunes around and prompted similar, early actions from nearby nations like Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.
But the U.S. was too caught up in news about the Democratic primaries and the impeachment saga to pay too much attention to growing warnings from American virologists. Precious time was wasted downplaying the threat and making calls based on political expediency over medical necessity. Now, the rapid pivot to social distancing has sent the economy into freefall and prompted an unprecedented spike in jobless claims. On Thursday, the Senate passed a two trillion dollar stimulus package in an attempt to stave off a recession and keep Americans afloat until the pandemic subsides.
As Dr. Sara Keller, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Medicine told the Times: “We are the new global epicenter of the disease.”
“Now, all we can do is to slow the transmission as much as possible by hunkering down in our houses while, as a country, we ramp up production of personal protective equipment, materials needed for testing, and ventilators.”