Scientists warned that the United States someday would become the country hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. That moment arrived on Thursday.
In the United States, at least 81,321 people are known to have been infected with the coronavirus, including more than 1000 deaths — more cases than China, Italy or any other country has seen, according to data gathered by The New York Times.
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With 330 million residents, the US is the world’s third-most populous nation, meaning it provides a vast pool of people who can potentially get Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
And it is a sprawling, cacophonous democracy, where states set their own policies and President Donald Trump has sent mixed messages about the scale of the danger and how to fight it, ensuring there was no coherent, unified response to a grave public health threat.
Although the American medical system is unsurpassed and its public health system has a reputation as one of the finest in the world, a series of missteps and lost opportunities dogged the nation’s response.
Among them: a failure to take the pandemic seriously even as it engulfed China, a deeply flawed effort to provide broad testing for the virus that left the country blind to the extent of the crisis, and a dire shortage of masks and protective gear to protect doctors and nurses on the front lines, as well as ventilators to keep the critically ill alive.
China’s leaders, stung by the Sars epidemic in 2003 and several bird flu scares since then, had a deeply flawed early response to the outbreak that began in the city of Wuhan, with local officials suppressing news of the outbreak.
But China’s autocratic government acted with ferocious intensity after the belated start. Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan quickly began preparing for the worst.
The United States instead remained preoccupied with business as usual. Impeachment. Harvey Weinstein. Brexit and the Oscars.
For now, at least, China is containing the coronavirus with draconian measures. But the pathogen had embarked on a Grand Tour of most countries on Earth, with devastating epidemics in Iran, Italy, France. More videos emerged of prostrate victims, exhausted nurses and lines of coffins.
The United States, which should have been ready, was not.