Has the US ever had coronavirus under control?

Covid-19 variants mean country could be on verge of ‘fourth surge of cases’, CDC warns

Joe Biden addresses the nation on his Covid-19 relief package
Joe Biden addresses the nation on his Covid-19 relief package
(Image credit: Samuel Corum-Pool/Getty Images)

During the early days of the pandemic, the response from Donald Trump’s White House was focused more on shutting down any sense of panic than locking down to avoid infections.

Trump repeatedly suggested that the virus was “going to disappear”, a prediction that unsurprisingly did not materialise before he was ejected from office in last year’s election.

Under Joe Biden, the publication of a 200-page Covid-19 strategy document in late January suggested a change of management style. But with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warning of the threats of new variants, it remains to be seen whether the new president can wrest control of the coronavirus.

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‘Fourth surge’

On 8 December, Biden pledged that his administration would deliver 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines within his first 100 days in office. And since his inauguration “the pace has picked up considerably”, Time reports.

“In the 23 days between Biden’s first day in office and 11 February, the US administered just shy of 30 million doses”, the magazine continues. “This comes to an average of 1.3 million a day, nearly three times the rate in the final five weeks of Trump’s term.”

But while the vaccination campaign is steaming ahead, infections remain high. Director of the CDC Dr Rochelle Walensky warned yesterday that about 70,000 new cases a day had been recorded last week, adding that “at this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained”.

There is currently a number of Covid variants in circulation in the US, with the Brazilian, South African and Kent strains all reported across the country. The CDC has warned that “the highly contagious” Kent variant “will become the dominant strain in the US this month”, the BBC reports.

Walensky said the strains “are a very real threat to our people and our progress”, adding: “we have the ability to stop a potential fourth surge of cases in this country. Please stay strong in your conviction.”

Ever-present issues

While Walensky has said that the US has the power to avoid a fourth wave of infections, a huge issue facing the country is that restrictions imposed so far have caused the “suppression of virtually every common respiratory and gastrointestinal virus besides the novel coronavirus”, The Washington Post says.

Viruses such as influenza A, influenza B, parainfluenza, norovirus, respiratory syncytial virus and human metapneumovirus “all appear to be circulating at or near levels lower than ever previously measured”, the paper says. But “SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, continues to spread like wildfire”.

The US has so far recorded over 28.5 million cases of Covid-19 and over half a million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University tracking, during which time the country “failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin”, The Atlantic reports.

“The US squandered every possible opportunity to control the coronavirus”, says science writer Ed Yong, and “achieved merely a plateau in the spring, which changed to an appalling upward slope in the summer” of 2020.

This trajectory is partly a result of the country’s vast size and federal structure, all of which made containing and suppressing the virus through national action more complex. But experts told Yong that the issue was exacerbated by “a sluggish response by a government denuded of expertise”.

Last year, the Trump administration was accused of overseeing six months of total complacency that allowed the virus to rip through the US. But even when the response became more serious, “chronic underfunding of public health neutered the nation’s ability to prevent the pathogen’s spread”, Yong adds.

“The US’s coronavirus epidemic is an American failure, not solely a Trump or Republican one,” Vox says. “Serious structural issues hindered states’ and the public’s ability to act”, while “a year into the pandemic, no state has capacities for testing and contact tracing that most experts would consider adequate”.

The combination of a government intent on ignoring the issue in the early days of the pandemic and these structural issues all contributed to the US having “absolutely no control over the coronavirus”, The Washington Post adds.

Hope ahead?

While the verdict on the US pandemic response is almost unanimously negative, it is worth noting that a string of European countries – including Belgium, Italy, Portugal and the UK – all have a higher death rate, according to Johns Hopkins University. And the country's vaccination campaign is also outstripping the EU27’s efforts, in part due to the US betting early on vaccines still in development.

On the publication of Biden’s 200-page strategy for getting a handle on the pandemic, “many researchers posted messages on Twitter expressing relief that scientific evidence would have a central role in Biden’s plan”, Nature says.

After the president pledged to “listen to the science”, experts also “celebrated the existence of a coordinated national pandemic strategy” after months of individual states imposing and relaxing restrictions as they saw fit, the journal adds.

That said, there is not little doubt that “the US is now among the worst performers on Covid-19 in the world”, with states “led by Democrats and ones led by Republicans” all succumbing to high numbers of infections and deaths during the past 12 months, Vox says. “That’s mostly Trump and his Republican allies’ fault, but not entirely”, the magazine adds.

“The Covid-19 epidemic is an American failure – and the whole country has to learn from that.”

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