Rapid spread of COVID-19 in US exposes six problems in government response

China Military Online
Huang Panyue
2020-04-20 16:08:20

By Meng Hua, Hong Shan, Mao Liyan

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread rapidly across the US since the first confirmed case on January 21, with the tally shooting up to more than 83,000 cumulative cases and still rising as of press time.

China has regularly informed the US of the epidemic information and its prevention and control measures since January 3, but the US didn’t announce a “state of national emergency” until March 13. Trump has downplayed the epidemic repeatedly in public, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reacted slowly, the government’s information release is neither open nor transparent, and some officials have been trying to shift the blame to China and divert public attention in a racist manner.

The Trump administration’s lack of action and responsibility and its squandering of the precious time bought by China for the world at immense sacrifices are the root causes of the massive outbreak in the US.

I. Trump’s improper and misleading remarks about the pandemic send serious misinformation.

Trump has made irresponsible remarks about the epidemic on several public occasions since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the US. Before March, he was all confident in controlling the situation and though it would disappear one day like a miracle”.

After the situation worsened in March, he made bizarre remarks encouraging people to take a passive attitude toward it. On March 2, he falsely claimed a vaccine could be ready in months, which was contradicted by a top CDC expert. On March 4, when America reported over 100 confirmed cases, Trump said the patients would get better just by sitting around or going to work, but the CDC corrected him immediately by asking people confirmed with COVID-19 “to stay at home and notify the medics”.

The State of Utah coronavirus task force labeled what Trump said as disinformation, saying that “infected people with even very mild symptoms may pose a threat to others”. Yet on March 17, when 5,656 confirmed cases were reported across the country, Trump told the press that “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

According to reports by Washington Post, the American intelligence agency warned the White House multiple times from January to February, and all to the deaf ear of Trump. An official insider mentioned that the alarm has already sounded, but Trump did nothing, forcing the CDC to make clarifications and corrections about the false statements he made while conducting normal prevention and control. The New York Times called Trump’s COVID-19 response “catastrophic”.

II. Lack of openness and transparency in pandemic information indicates irresponsibility to the international community.

According to US CDC, the 2019-2020 flu season in the US started on September 29 last year, which has caused at least 34 million infected cases, 350,000 times of hospitalization, and 20,000 deaths.

Japan’s TV Asahi February 21 reported that “some of the Americans who died from flu may have died from COVID-19”, to which US CDC responded the next day that “there is no evidence to support TV Asahi's statement.”

However, Robert Redfield, the CDC director, admitted to the US House of Representatives on March 11 that it’s possible that some people dying from what it appears to be influenza might have died from the coronavirus.

We cannot help wondering how many of the 20,000-plus flu-caused deaths have been infected with COVID-19 and whether Washington has been using flu as a cover-up for theCOVID-19 pandemic. The US authorities haven’t announced any official statistics yet, nor have they invited the World Health organization (WHO) to join the investigation.

On February 27, Trump has authorized that all news releases on COVID-19 pandemic outbreak should be reviewed by Vice President Pence before being made public. According to reports by the New York Times, Anthony Fauci, a top CDC expert on infectious diseases, told his colleague that he was told by the White House not to make any statement without permission.

On March 3, the CDC suddenly stopped announcing key information, including the number of people receiving COVID-19 diagnostic test and the number of negative results, on the ground of “inaccuracy”, as well as the number of confirmed cases in each US state, which was only described as “yes” or “no”.

This move triggered an immediate international outcry. The American public and medical community suspected that there may be far more infections than the announced number of confirmed cases, and Mark Pocan, a member of the House of Representatives, slammed the CDC for making an outrageous decision, claiming their right to know how many have been tested.

Since the epidemic began to sweep across its homeland, the US government has taken a self-deceiving approach in total disregard of the US citizens’ and the international community’s concerns. It has been berated by the international community for ceasing to announce key information, including COVID-19 testing, its retarded responses, and non-transparent information, which are highly irresponsible for the international efforts against the pandemic.

III. The health system’s slow response is a direct cause for the quick spread of the pandemic.

As the most developed economy in the world, the US boasts advanced medical technologies, brilliant medical practitioners, and a perfect disease control and monitoring system. Nobody is doubting its capability of handling a public health emergency. Yet the fact that a lot of ordinary Americans still haven’t been tested so long through the massive outbreak reveals the defects and some chronic problems with its health system.

The first is downsizing and budget cuts. The disbanding of the global health security and bio-defense office by the Trump administration in 2018 is believed to be one reason why the country has reacted so slowly to the pandemic. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told the Congress that “it would be great if the office was still there”.

In July 2019, the Trump administration revoked the position held by Linda Quick who was assigned by the American CDC to work in China, and no other expert was assigned since. If the position were not revoked, the notifications from China to the US in early January might have attracted enough attention at the White House. Besides, the American CDC announced, during the COVID-19 outbreak, its budget report for the fiscal year of 2021, which fell by 28.7% to USD5.56 billion from USD6.84 billion in 2020.

The second problem is an ineffective monitoring network. Large amounts of Americans were inoculated the flu vaccination at the end of October 2019 as per the CDC’s advice, but influenza-like illnesses passed the 2.4% warning line half a month later, one month earlier than in previous years, which, however, didn’t raise a red flag with the CDC.

Seattle in the State of Washington set up a research team in response to flu that was capable of COVID-19 testing, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didn’t authorize research organizations in each state to conduct primary testing on their own until late February when signs of community transmission emerged in the country. That explains why the current influenza monitoring network cannot function effectively in containing COVID-19 and why the US is so slow in warning against the coronavirus.

The third problem is inefficient testing. The CDC refused to use the diagnostic testing kits offered by WHO and insisted on developing its nucleic acid test kits and distributed them to each state in February. But that was a troublesome and long process as all tested samples had to go back to Atlanta, where the CDC is based, for confirmation and some test kits proved invalid, which was only fixed nearly three weeks later.

On February 29, 40 days after China announced human-to-human transmission, only 24 cases were confirmed in the US and free testing didn’t begin until March. American vice president Mike Pence admitted, “we don't have enough test today to satisfy what we anticipate to be the demand going forward”. Apparently, the verbose process and slow response are the main reasons for America’s delay in testing.

IV. The wealthy and the powerful getting tested first is a downright defiance of human rights.

The US response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a total pandemonium, but what’s most outrageous is that rich people and celebrities have priority to testing, according to an article published by New York Times on March 18.

Hollywood stars can quickly book an outpatient doctor over the phone, many A-listers go to private clinics, and those who have been tested are close with the president, including Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republic senator and Trump’s golf buddy, and Mark Meadows, a Republican member of the North Carolina House of Representatives and the future White House Chief of Staff.

When asked whether the well-connected should get expedited testing, Trump answered at a White House press conference “perhaps that’s been the story of life. That does happen on occasion.”

While getting tested seems so easy for those with a deep pocket or connections, it is almost impossible for ordinary Americans. Tim Herrera, a news and features editor at the New York Times, tweeted that it took him five days from searching for a testing place to finally being confirmed with COVID-19, but he felt grateful because many others had their applications rejected. Blasio, mayor of New York City, posted on social media that the testing should serve the patients, not the wealthy.

The US has posed as a world guardian of human rights and prided itself on that, claiming equality and liberty to be its core values since the first day it was founded. However, the double standards it practiced during the COVID-19 prevention and control have violated ordinary Americans’ right to health.

It is an immoral defiance of human rights that is against the Declaration of Independence, the cornerstone of the nation, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Constitution of the World Health Organization.

V. Politicizing the pandemic is an act of shifting blame and shirking responsibilities.

The Trump administration has been using the pandemic to attack political rivals at home and viciously smear China in the international community.

Trump took domestic criticisms of the White House’s poor response to the epidemic as a political movement orchestrated by the Democratic Party, calling coronavirus “the Democrats’ new hoax”. Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, even told conservative activists directly that journalists are so interested in the pandemic because they think that’s going to make the president step down.

FOX News commented “increasingly for President Donald Trump, a member of his family, and his administration officials, the virus is being seen as a weapon the president’s enemies hope to use against him”, while CNN said, “Pence's habit of repeatedly pouring praise over the President's role in the crisis so far ... in itself politicized the response effort.”

Outwardly, some American officials and conservative media smeared China’s anti-virus efforts under the disguise of “democracy and human rights” and stigmatized the country. New York Times called China’s city lockdown “undemocratic”, “incomprehensible” and “violating human rights”, and US government officials took turns in making racist remarks against China.

Pompeo and McCarthy kept turning a blind eye to WHO’s rules on virus nomenclature, Trump personally changed “coronavirus” in his speech into “Chinese virus”, and the White House is launching a communications plan across multiple federal agencies that focuses on accusing Beijing of orchestrating a “cover-up” and creating a global pandemic.

Coronavirus was first identified in China, but that doesn’t mean it originated in China. China is the first victim to the COVID-19 outbreak and the biggest contributor to its containment so far, but American politicians decide to turn a blind eye to all that and stick to their lies and slanders, which exactly reveals what a catastrophic job they’ve done in containing the virus. For instance, the Australian prime minister said about 80% of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia were imported from overseas, mostly from the US.

This is the election year when Trump has to sell his political views through massive rallies and gatherings, so downplaying the pandemic, distracting people’s attention from it and blaming China is the only choice for him.

However, politicizing the outbreak will not help America’s prevention and control work at home. Rather, it will sabotage the international synergy against the pandemic because the “political virus” is even more dangerous than coronavirus.

VI. Stock dumping by government officials is a malpractice of money-over-integrity.

According to reports by US media, Richard Burr, the Republican who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, dumped USD1.7 million in stocks in early and mid-February before the epidemic broke out and the stock market collapsed, while all the time reassuring the public that the epidemic could be kept well under control.

It is also reported that at least four other government officials dumped millions of stocks before the stock market crash. Shortly before he sold the stocks in mid-February, Burr told the public that he was confident in the government’s preparedness for the pandemic.

Senior American officials have long realized the danger of COVID-19 outbreak, but they shirked their duties by, on the one hand, understating the situation at home through various channels in an attempt to pacify the public, while, on the other hand, avoiding the four meltdowns through insider trading.

In the face of the pandemic, certain American officials put making money before saving lives at the expense of public health for all Americans.

China’s powerful and effective measures have gained precious time for the world to prepare. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised China for its transparent and timely information sharing and said the world should respect and thank China for its anti-virus efforts.

Some American politicians are turning the outbreak into a weapon against China, but defamation and false accusations won’t make America great again. It will only damage the international efforts against the pandemic.

Faced with such a crisis, all countries and peoples should work together with mutual assistance. Fighting the pandemic isn’t a struggle between different systems, but a test on every country’s ability of self-improvement. Major countries, in particular, should abandon prejudices, join hands, and live up to our historic responsibility of protecting the human society that we all call home.


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