Pre-Collegiate Global Health Review
The United States’ Response to COVID-19: Learning through Reflection
Updated: Aug 18, 2021
Nouraldeen Ibrahim, Staten Island Technical High School, Brooklyn, NY
When analyzing the global humanitarian crisis known as the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes the disease COVID-19), it is important to analyze the response of the United States so it is possible to learn from any mistakes. Since a global pandemic was completely unprecedented to the United States government, it did not have a concrete plan or solution prepared to deal with the outbreak. COVID-19 exposed the flaws in the United State's ability to deal with pandemics which, consequently, has now led to the U.S. to have the highest death toll in the world.
One of the most apparent and detrimental aspects of the U.S. health system is the medical supply shortage that was exposed during the emergence of COVID-19. Doctors and hospitals across the country were running out of the items essential to treat those with the virus and protect themselves. This included equipment such as masks, gloves, gowns, and ventilators, which were all essential to contain and decrease the impact of the virus. On March 31, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo explained that both states and the federal government were competing for these items. "It's like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator," the governor complained (Zurcher, 2020). This statement is very shocking since New York was the epicenter of this virus in the U.S., and instead of having needed equipment in surplus, they were undersupplied.
Moreover, hastiness to rapidly initialize testing across the nation early on was another major deficiency in the U.S. response. According to health experts, ramping up testing at an early date is the key to controlling an epidemic like COVID-19 (Zurcher, 2020). As seen in South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam, who recognized the novel coronavirus as a threat from the outset and aggressively tested suspected cases, COVID-19 infections were able to be contained and limited (Thompson, 2020). The inability of the U.S. to do the same as these countries caused many immediate complications. Since testing started off very slowly, health officials were unable to track where the hotspots were emerging, for example. Immediate testing would have meant that people in hotspots could be identified and isolated, which could have saved the death of thousands of Americans (Zurcher, 2020).
Additionally, COVID-19 exposed the defects of the United States’ federalist system of public health that leaves decisions to state and local governments (Haffajee & Mello, 2020). Although individual states have been leading the response in the United States, many have not followed adequate CDC guidelines during the breakout of COVID-19 (Haffajee & Mello, 2020). Since the virus is contagious and spreads across states, social distancing and quarantine measures can only succeed if implemented on an interstate level, which requires coordination from the federal government. However, the federal response has been surprisingly slow in instruction, causing fatal consequences. Because of this lackluster federal response, the United States became the focal point of COVID-19 cases and deaths, as the World Health Organization predicted (Haffajee & Mello, 2020).
All in all, it is instrumental to analyze the response of the U.S. government in order to learn from the mistakes made and to be prepared to face future pandemics more effectively.
Haffajee, R. L., & Mello, M. M. (2020, May 28). Thinking Globally, Acting Locally - The U.S. Response to Covid-19: NEJM. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2006740
Thompson, D. (2020, March 27). Three countries have kept coronavirus in check; here's how they did it. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-03-countries-coronavirus.html
Zurcher, A. (2020, April 01). Coronavirus: Things the US has got wrong - and got right. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52125039