Is America an Anomaly?

Robert Brooks Contributor
Is America an Anomaly?
Read Time: approx. 2:45

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Is America an Anomaly? According to Johns Hopkins University, the confirmed death toll from the coronavirus in the US hit 150,000 this week. In total, over 4.4 million Americans have been infected with the disease. It’s a bleak milestone that comes as the country says goodbye to July, transitioning into what is supposed to be the relaxing month of August. According to the Associated Press, “the nation’s outbreak is beginning to stabilize in the Sun Belt but heating up in the Midwest, fueled largely by young adults who are hitting bars, restaurants and gyms again.” Is the United States an anomaly? Here’s what both sides are saying:

On the Left: A quartet of commentators from the Washington Post write that, “Six months after the coronavirus appeared in America, the nation has failed spectacularly to contain it. The country’s ineffective response has shocked observers around the planet.” Joel Achenbach, William Wan, Karin Brulliard, and Chelsea Janes say, “Many countries have rigorously driven infection rates nearly to zero. In the United States, coronavirus transmission is out of control. The national response is fragmented, shot through with political rancor and culture-war divisiveness. Testing shortcomings that revealed themselves in March have become acute in July, with week-long waits for results leaving the country blind to real-time virus spread and rendering contact tracing nearly irrelevant.” The authors argue that “The fumbling of the virus was not a fluke: The American coronavirus fiasco has exposed the country’s incoherent leadership, self-defeating political polarization, a lack of investment in public health, and persistent socioeconomic and racial inequities that have left millions of people vulnerable to disease and death.” Pinpointing one mistake, The Post’s writers say “The single biggest miscalculation was rushing to reopen the economy while the virus was still spreading at high rates through much of the country… While most countries, ‘crushed the curve’ — to drive down the rate of viral transmission to the point that new infections were few and far between, the United States did not follow the experts advice. Now, the curve is crushing America.” In conclusion, “While other countries endured some of the same setbacks, few have suffered from all of them simultaneously and catastrophically. If there was a mistake to be made in this pandemic, America has made it.”

On the RightThe Wall Street Journal Editorial Board begins with this: “Remember the stories blaming America’s virus resurgence on states reopening too fast and praising other countries for crushing the virus with lockdowns? Well, flare-ups are now occurring in several countries that recently eased their lockdowns and travel restrictions. Victory declarations anywhere are premature.” The WSJ Ed-Board highlights how “New cases doubled in Spain over the weekend and are up six-fold in a month.” Up north, “The United Kingdom has imposed a quarantine on travelers returning from Spain, which could be a blow to its tourism industry and economy that are trying to revive.” Elsewhere, “Germany recently reported an outbreak in Bavaria tied to migrant farm workers from Romania. [And] Last week France’s Directorate General of Health warned ‘the circulation of the virus is increasing’ after the country recorded more than 200 outbreaks. France is recording twice as many new cases per day as two weeks ago and last week mandated masks in public spaces.” Thousands of miles away, “Australia’s new daily cases have increased 11-fold in the last month.. [and] Japan and Hong Kong—both hailed as models of infection control—are also experiencing flare-ups tied to travelers and social gatherings.” The WSJ Ed-Board says that “Democrats blame the U.S. case surge on inadequate testing and contact tracing. But the U.S. has averaged two to three times more tests per capita than most European and Asian countries. Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas all were doing more tests per capita when they lifted their lockdowns than Germany, Spain, France and South Korea have averaged.” In conclusion, “The lesson is that the virus won’t disappear anytime soon. Governments may have to impose some business and social restrictions to protect hospitals and the vulnerable. But lockdowns aren’t a miracle cure, and their collateral damage is too severe to sustain.”

Flag This: Most of the coronavirus coverage in the US certainly makes it seem like we are an outlier. From a purely numerical standpoint, we are. On paper we are leading the world in both infections and deaths. And while these top-line statistics are both frightening and depressing, they don’t tell the whole story. For example, when comparing countries using the “death-rate per million” statistic, the US is actually performing relatively well. Belgium has recorded over 860 deaths per one million people. The UK has recorded over 690 per million, Spain is at 608, Peru is at 588, Italy is at 581, Sweden is at 562, and Chile is at 495 per million people. The US is next on the list with 460 deaths per million people. From this perspective, Belgium is the country that looks like an anomaly. Another aspect of this disease that has received lackluster coverage is its ability to evolve. Scripps Research, a nonprofit American medical research facility, recently published a piece analyzing how a mutated strain of COVID-19 in the US and Europe is 10 times more contagious than the original strain. According to researchers at the institute, this is why the virus has been spreading so quickly in the US and Europe compared to when it emerged in Asia. The mutation does not appear to make the virus any more deadly, it just means more people are likely to contract it. Maybe this is even what helps explain domestic discrepancies in the US. Take New York and Florida for example. New York has 418,000 confirmed cases. Florida has 451,000 confirmed cases. New York, however, has 32,342 deaths, while Florida has only registered 6,332. If these two epicenters have roughly the same amount of infections, but vastly different deaths counts, does that mean the virus is losing its potency? Does that mean we’re getting better at treating it? Is it due to some underlying demographic trend? According to the CDC, “8 out of 10 COVID-19 related deaths reported in the United States have been among adults aged 65 years and older,” yet Florida has the highest percentage of adults aged 65 years and older in the nation. Those two stats don’t seem to fit neatly together. Long story short, we still have so much to learn about this virus and we’ll always be playing catch up because it’s constantly mutating. Remember, in a fear-based media ecosystem, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Currently the US “leads” in something that is making the entire world “bleed” so our hometown outlets are having a field day. Did we handle this perfectly? Of course not. Did other countries? Nope. That’s why this thing is called the “novel” coronavirus: it’s new and unusual for the entire world, not just the United States.