In the not-too-distant future, newspapers around the world are likely to provide various versions of the following headline: “Quarter-million succumb to virus in U.S.”
This past March, in an admittedly gruesome game of “Apocalyptic Predictions,” I posed the following to my son — a business-type much better at numbers than me: that we both estimate the ultimate maximum number of deaths in the U.S. as a result of COVID-19 and see which would come closest.
His number: 150,000. My number: 250,000 (at a minimum.)
Unfortunately, heart-breakingly, we have now passed the 210,000 mark in lives lost and heading toward my estimated number. In another prediction I think we may actually reach that number by the end of the year, or no later than the first or second month of 2021 – a quarter of a million Americans dying of the virus and perhaps, ultimately, as many as 300,000.
Of all the ironies embedded in the DNA of this country, this stands out as one of the most embarrassing, the most humiliating, that a country with the most expensive healthcare system in the world is suffering one of the highest rates of deaths in the world – thus providing another sad meaning to our continued boast of being “exceptional.”
The American healthcare system is exceptional in its healthcare assets. Our physician offices and hospitals have the most sophisticated and expensive equipment, the newest technologies, the broadest and deepest healthcare education and scientific expertise. We test our new technologies most often in the populations of other countries – the expense of doing so much less than in the U.S. But after they are approved, we are the only country with enough money to purchase them.
Additionally, we can boast of having some of the most prestigious and experienced public health agencies in the world, the CDC, the FDA, the NIH.
But histories of the pandemic will document our obvious inability to deploy the basic tools for combatting the virus, the initial lack of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers; the months-long scramble to acquire enough ventilators for those in ICUs; the inability to provide one-to-two-day turn-around in COVID-19 test results (longer reporting times rendering the results essentially useless); our failure to develop and deploy rapid, inexpensive, home virus tests.
Another major irony in all of this – one currently being noticed by the nations of the world — is the comparative success of other countries in fighting the virus. China for instance. There we see, despite four times the population of America, several hundred times fewer per-capita deaths (even acknowledging the likely understatement in reporting.)
The reasons for this embarrassing and tragic failure are obvious. They include a fractured and patchwork healthcare system, that – despite numerous warnings – was totally unprepared; a president that, at first, denied the seriousness of the virus, unwilling to develop a consistent plan to fight it, and now infected.
Over the last week, we have seen how disastrous this non-approach – Trump’s total denial of the basic methods for blocking spread of the virus – has become. There was absolutely no surprise concerning the spread of the virus within the White House, his infection and the total arrogance of his belief that he is somehow immune from infection. This arrogance spread, like the virus itself, infecting those around him and served to turn the Rose Garden into a super-spreader hot spot.
Then there was his photo-op return to the White House, highlighting and grossly flaunting this arrogance. He makes a show of taking off his mask and putting in his pocket, once again demonstrating his basic selfishness – that everything is all about him, that there is no concern about those around him that he might manage to infect and spread to their families and to all those they come in contact with.
And he continues to downplay the virus – don’t worry about it, don’t be afraid — making his own experience a personal triumph, proof that he is somehow bigger and stronger than this dread disease, no matter the illness it will cause others.
The result? – Trump and his White House will continue to enable the virus’s inexorable march to the quarter-million of Americans lost.