The U.S. Systematically Made Itself Ill Prepared to Battle Coronavirus Pandemic
White house economists published a study in September warnings everyone of the devastation a widespread pandemic would take both in number of human lives claimed and economic toll as well. They estimated that an influenza pandemic would cost the economy $13 trillion dollars and kill 500,000 Americans. However, even those grim numbers are underestimates, since the paper did not take into account the economic toll of healthy individuals staying home from work to avoid being infected.
The amount of funding and resources allocated to pandemic preparedness has been decreased consistently over the past few years. In Trump’s budget proposals, there has usually been a funding cut for the Center for Disease Control. The last budget proposal had a $700 million funding cut for the CDC, according to factcheck.org.
Fighting pandemics is not a policy priority for the Federal government. According the Atlantic, $100 billion a year are spent on counterterrorism efforts but only $1 billion dollars a year are spent on pandemic programs and other efforts to curb the spread of infectious diseases. The US decided to discontinue the National Security Council directorate focused on increasing pandemic preparedness, according to ABC News. Additionally, there are structural issues in our healthcare system that makes the U.S. particularly ill prepared in the face of this pandemic, compared to other industrialized countries.
44 million Americans are uninsured, according to PBS. Federal government policy are putting uninsured and even those who are insured at huge financial risk if they are diagnosed with the coronavirus. Medicaid does not currently cover treatment for the coronavirus, according to Vox. As the federal government refuses to increase coverage for Americans, states are taking matters into their own hands. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York has expanded Medicaid coverage to include treatment for the coronavirus and opened up the healthcare marketplace. Governor Gavin Newsom of California has also implemented the same measures in his state. However, the administration has refused to open up the Obamacare marketplace, according to the New York Times.
The U.S. is now the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic with a total of 258,611 cases and 6,660 deaths, according to the New York Times. The number of American cases outstrips the number of Italian cases, the country with the second highest number of cases, by 100,000 infected individuals. However, a lack of accessible testing throughout the U.S. likely means that the number of individuals infected is much higher than the stated caseload. With strict social distancing measures in place between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans are still expected to die, according to NPR.
Countries that implemented widespread testing and contact tracing efforts during the early days of the pandemic have been effective at flattening the curve and keeping coronavirus infections low. On April 1st, Taiwan had a 329 cases of infection and five deaths, according to Foreign policy. Taiwan was particularly effective at strictly enforcing self-quarantine, testing widely and increasing production of medical equipment. South Korea had such a successful testing operation that it was able to test 20,000 people a day. Testing widely and contact tracing allows individuals who have potentially been exposed to self-quarantine and not unknowingly infect others. These coordinated efforts result in a lower burden on a country’s healthcare system.