The numbers are starting to get alarming. There are now more than 14,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, up 5,000 in just the last 24 hours. The first case was reported just two months ago. The number of people who have died from the Coronavirus now stands at 217. No doubt, as more test kits are made available, both numbers will grow exponentially.
In Italy, which is now the epicenter of this pandemic, there have been more than 41,000 confirmed cases and over 3,400 deaths. That’s a mortality rate of 8.3 percent, an incredibly high number, given that the World Health Organization is predicting a 3.4 percent mortality rate. If that isn’t enough to frighten you, consider this: according to the vast majority of medical experts, we are approximately two weeks behind them.
Clearly, the Trump Administration was not prepared to tackle this crisis. In addition to firing the entire pandemic response team in his first year in office, Trump initially called the virus a Democratic hoax. The WHO’s offer to provide the U.S. with the test kits necessary to determine who had the virus and who didn’t was rejected. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that his demeanor finally changed and he began taking it seriously.
The old saying “better late than never” is not going to cut it in this instance. Trump ignored the warnings of his own administration that the U.S. was not prepared for a pandemic of this magnitude. As a result, a good many more people are likely to die than needed to. As for the economy, we could be looking at a depression that might last several years. This week alone, 281,000 new unemployment claims were filed, up 33 percent from the previous week. Expect that number to increase in the weeks and months ahead. To add insult to injury, a vaccine is at least twelve to eighteen months away, meaning we could be looking at a repeat of the 1918-19 flu pandemic that killed more than 17 million people.
So now that the milk has been spilt, so to speak, what do we do about it? How do we “flatten the curve” to prevent our healthcare system from collapsing in on itself? While shelter in place, social distancing and closing restaurants and bars will certainly help, they are not the silver bullet that is needed. If the images we saw from south Florida are any indication, it’s clear a lot of people just aren’t getting the memo. You can’t have some parts of the country acting responsibly, while others throw caution to the wind. With the prospect of almost 40 percent of the population contracting the virus, it’s clear more draconian measures will have to be taken.
What is needed is a national response like the one the state of California just enacted. Governor Gavin Newsom issued an order Thursday to all 40 million of the state’s residents to stay in their homes. But while the move is laudable, in and of itself, it will not be sufficient. That’s because the border between California and its neighbors is open. Anyone can drive across it, which means people from Arizona, Nevada or Oregon can transmit the virus to people in California and vice versa.
In order to be effective any lockdown must be uniformly enforced across the entire country. In other words, the United States must enact a federally-mandated lockdown in all 48 contiguous states. All citizens, save for emergency and medical personnel, must remain in their homes for at least a month. Exceptions can be made for people to buy groceries and supplies as needed, but that’s it. Those who can work from home will continue to do so; those who can’t unfortunately will be out of luck. And to make sure everyone complies, the National Guard can be mobilized and deployed. You want to jog, buy a treadmill. While this may seem harsh, it is the only way to prevent the catastrophe every expert says is coming our way.
We’ve seen such a lockdown work. China, where the virus originated in late December of last year, shut down the entire country for two months once they knew the virus was spreading. As a result, they have not only flattened the curve, they have stopped the virus dead in its tracks. Over the last 48 hours, there have been no new cases of Coronavirus among the Chinese population for the first time since the beginning of the outbreak. The only new cases have come from foreigners entering the country.
The choice before us could not be more obvious. Either we continue with these half-measured responses that are clearly not working and will only prolong the pain, or we bite the bullet now and, if we’re really fortunate, nip this thing in the bud and buy our scientists the time they need to develop a vaccine that will hopefully eradicate this virus once and for all.
If we don’t act swiftly and decisively, we will be in worse shape than Italy. And if we allow that to happen, the dead will curse us from their graves.