”May God bless the one million American lives lost and their loved ones left behind.”
President Joe Biden declared in a statement to every American on May 22, the day the number of people killed by the COVID-19 hit the terrible one million mark. Months followed, and by the end of November, that figure had risen by another 75,000. The result indicates more Americans died in COVID-19 than in 20 years of auto accidents or on the front lines of all American wars put together. Additionally, 98 million confirmed and suspected positive of COVID-19 have been reported in the US. Considering that there are only 333 million people living in the United States, roughly one in three of them have infected the virus.
It’s so ironic that a nation with the greatest medical facilities and pharmaceutical industry in the world yet has the largest death toll from this global pandemic. To provide an extreme perspective, North Korea, which has a population of 26 million and is regarded as the least democratic nation, had just 74 fatalities despite having 4.77 million verified cases. When you consider the amount of people who have died and how well other nations—such as the UK, Australia, and Canada—have done in the face of the pandemic, once again, the democracy of the United States is overshadowed. While natural disasters cannot be avoided, the U.S. government’s failure to provide effective, coherent public policy during the epidemic would pay the primary responsibility for those infected and dying.
The way the United States is approaching the pandemic has showed signs of weakness. Despite the fact that all the experts agree that wearing masks is one of the most effective public health measures to stop the spread of the virus, a determined boycott of masks by some extremely right-wing politicians and the media has led some sections of the population to view masks as a hindrance to “freedom”, which has caused the US government to fall far behind the virus’s spread in its vacillating on public policy.
The public’s mistrust of the government’s authority was exacerbated by the government’s deliberate downplaying of the threat posed by the COVID-19 and by unscientific epidemic prevention policy guidelines. For example, during the epidemic’s rapid ascent, the former US president Donald Trump even suggested his people treat the virus with injections of disinfectant water in April, with so many intelligent officers and medical professionals offering policy advice and assistance. It is so hard to believe that the top official in the government could make such ludicrous claims when facing such a catastrophic pandemic.
Furthermore, the long-fragmented and overburdened health-care system, exhausted in response to the surge of the virus, is completely paralyzed in a health-care system that was previously doctor-centered, where drug company interests were paramount, and lacked the necessary national coordination and oversight, with federal aid flocking to big health-care facilities, leaving those small and medium-sized facilities behind to those who didn’t have to die.
The lack of scientific guidance and necessary scientific advocacy, especially by some members of Congress who were even proud of not getting vaccinated, led to a large portion of the population being afraid of vaccines as the epidemic progressed into a plateau, despite the fact that the US was the first in the world to develop a vaccine against the virus, the US has long ranked behind other developed countries in vaccination rates, and even by 2022, about one-third of the entire U.S. people are not fully vaccinated and about 70 percent of the population is not receiving booster doses. The US has the world’s most advanced technological lead, but the U.S. also has the most torn democracy.
Another unsettling fact is that the virus does not randomly or indiscriminately kill people. Among the 1 million fatalities, some racial or socioeconomic groups were more susceptible to tragedy than others. Additionally, 75 percent of those who passed away were 65 or older, black Americans are 2.6 times more likely to contract COVID-19, 4.7 times more likely to be admitted to the hospital with the virus, and 2.1 times more likely to pass away from COVID-19-related illnesses than white Americans are. Hispanics and Native Americans are also about twice as likely as whites to die from the virus.
It is very clear that this significant inequality is a direct result of decades of the US goverment public policies, such as systematic urban planning, quality of residence and population density control, industrial and employment steering, racial bias and discrimination that have made people of color highly concentrated, and the economic factors that make people of color more inclined to to use public transportation, accelerating the spread of the virus among people of color. The policies systematically put them at a severe disadvantage in the fight against the COVID-19.
The pandemic not only involved life and death, but also further polarized American society. The pandemic and the ensuing economic shutdown caused a crisis for all workers, but it disproportionately affected women, people of color, low-income earners, and those with less education. However, the US policy aid was more heavily weighted toward large corporations and financial assets, with the result that in 2021, the richest 1 percent of Americans owned 34.9 percent of the country’s wealth, while those at the bottom of the scale noly have an average of $12,065, a figure lower than any other developed country.
According to Census Bureau statistics released in September 2022, the Gini index for the United States increased 1.2 percent to 0.494 in 2021 from 0.488 the previous year. Economists use the Gini coefficient to measure the disparity between affluent and poor people in society, with 0 indicating perfect equity and 1 representing perfect injustice. In comparison, Denmark has a Gini coefficient of 0.28, the United Kingdom has a value of 3.5, and France has a coefficient of 0.32. Internationally, 0.4 is commonly regarded as the tipping point for the difference between rich and poor, and a number larger than this is associated with societal instability. As we saw in the most recent U.S. election, there has been a significant rise in extreme political forces, right-wing groups, and a greater lack of stability in U.S. domestic and foreign policy as a direct result of economic inequality having an impact on the political ecology of the United States. This erratic behavior has further weakened the message of the political faith of the US.
In 2017, Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, the longtime Special Advisor on Health Policy to the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, and who was deeply involved in Obama’s health care reform program, wrote a book reflecting on the American health care system, Perscription for the Future, in which he candidly notes the regret that Trump overturned the ObamaCare bill immediately after taking office. As he wrote in his book, “Obama’s bill ended up being the scapegoat for Americans to vent their lingering anger at the health care system.” Even a health care system reform that is so repetitive and volatile when so people’s lives are at stake, offer an another special view to judge the future of the US. Back to pandemic prevention policy, maybe it’s time for the US. to seek for possible solutions from other countries, which are more suitable for ordinary people’ health and maintaining economic growth, such as Singapore and China.