Across the globe political leaders have all managed COVID-19 differently. Some leaders have taken quick decisive action to stop the spread. Some waited until the last minute to take any effective action. Others, such as Brazilian President Bolsonaro are still in denial about the dangers of this virus.
President Trump decided to go the route of waiting until the last minute. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States was recorded on January 20th. The infected individual returned from Wuhan China, to the State of Washington. Despite knowing that the disease was already present in our country, little was done in the production of tests for the new disease or efforts to close borders.
On February 9th Donald Trump compared the coronavirus to the flu saying, “The flu kills in our country, kills from 25,000 people to 69,000 people a year.” Trump resisted ordering any lockdowns, claiming that COVID-19 would be no worse than the flu. He was making these statements despite various warnings from health officials and the fact that this unpredictable and extremely contagious virus was causing thousands of deaths in China and was rapidly spreading throughout the European Union.
From January 20th until March 10th Donald Trump made vague claims about having a plan for dealing with the virus. He claimed that everything was under control; the virus would go away on its own. However, by March 10th there were 1,300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. The only action taken toward stopping the spread of COVID-19 here was putting a partial travel ban on some people coming from China, despite the fact that the virus was here and was spreading.
On March 11th with 1,700 confirmed cases in the U.S., Trump ordered a 30-day travel ban on people coming from Europe. Two days later when the number of infected Americans climbed to 2,700, Trump finally declared a national emergency. On March 16 when the number of cases hit 6,400, he introduced new social distancing guidelines. Some health officials claimed the outbreak could last until July or August. On March 24th when the country was at 65,800 cases, Trump announced that the country would be open by Easter. On March 31st, when the U.S. hit 213,400 confirmed cases, Trump began to talk about how COVID-19 “isn’t the flu.” He finally admitted that the coronavirus is much more deadly and contagious than the flu.
South Korea took a completely different approach when it came to combatting COVID-19. South Korea reported its first confirmed case on January 20th, the same day as the United States. With the news of that first confirmed case South Korea’s President Moon quickly took action to stop the spread. South Korea began mass producing coronavirus tests. Tests were given to South Korean citizens at drive through and walk-in testing sites. These tests helped South Korean officials identify infected individuals. The government then notified the individuals who were infected and quarantined them. Healthy individuals continued their daily routines; they were advised to follow guidelines to avoid getting infected.
The South Korean government was extremely transparent and was constantly communicating the latest knowledge learned about how the virus acted and where infected people were located. There were even public apps developed that warned people of an increase of COVID-19 infections in a particular area. Officials also communicated social distancing and safety protocols via text messaging. South Korea never had any full-scale lockdowns, like China did. South Korea managed to use its system of widespread testing and information sharing so it could lock down only the most affected areas and leave the rest of the country open.
Since February 29th the number of new cases in South Korea has declined. The total number of cases in the country as of May 13th is 10,962; there have been only 259 deaths. The death count was so low, because the government managed to flatten the curve early on. This has allowed hospitals to avoid being overwhelmed with too many patients at once, thus conserving resources and allowing more treatment for infected individuals. On top of widespread testing the government was also extremely transparent about how many people were infected and where the infections were taking place.
As I write this article on (May 13th) the number of confirmed cases in the United States continues to rise and there is no widespread testing as was promised by the President back in March. Lockdown orders have managed to reduce the spread of the virus. However, they came too late to have a strong effect. The United States has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases on the planet numbering 1,418,591 and there are 84,243 deaths.*
One lesson that can be learned from the President’s mismanagement of this pandemic is that it is extremely important to take action as soon as possible. The president took symbolic action at the beginning by introducing a travel ban on China. However, the president failed to introduce any social distancing guidelines until a month and a half later, despite the fact that he was well aware of the presence of the virus in the United States.
Another lesson we can learn from this pandemic is that testing is key. With widespread testing both the location and the identity of infected individuals are known. This allows for infected people to be quarantined off and healthy people to remain economically productive. Testing also helps people avoid going to areas where there was a recent infection as well as knowing if they are infected, so they can self-quarantine.
The South Korean model also taught us that government transparency is extremely important. Government transparency about the epidemic builds trust between citizens and their government. Transparency keeps citizens well informed about the number of infections in their communities and where those infections are taking place. This approach is much safer and more effective compared to shutting everything down, then letting citizens go out, blind about where infections are taking place.
A lesson Trump is learning now stems from an action he made two years ago. Always be prepared for national emergencies. In 2018 Trump’s budget cut to the Center for Disease Control compromised its capabilities to combat epidemic disease outbreaks by 80%. Preparedness follows the fire extinguisher principle. Sometimes it seems unnecessary, until there is a fire.
So far Trump has handled the pandemic by trying to downplay the virus at the very beginning and waiting until the last minute to take any serious action. So far Trump has failed on fulfilling his promise of providing widespread testing for the nation. To avoid the consequences of those actions, Trump will likely play the blame game. He has already blamed China for spreading the virus. Trump has even incorporated this blaming mindset into his rhetoric by referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” It is likely Trump gave the states the power to open up when they choose, because, if there is a second wave of infections, he can avoid being blamed for it as he didn’t give direct orders to open up too early. Trump has even blamed the World Health Organization for spreading false information and worsening the virus spread. He halted all American funding for the WHO, despite the fact that the WHO is the main organization providing relief and assistance to struggling countries during this global pandemic. It is likely Trump has been slow on providing widespread testing for Americans to prevent the number of confirmed cases from going up and his policies looking worse.
Although it is true that China’s lack of transparency about the presence and severity of the virus from the world did play a role in allowing it to spread across borders. However, it cannot be ignored that Trump’s complete mismanagement and lack of commitment to preserving the security of the nation allowed the virus to spread across our country. It may have been the Chinese that allowed the virus to reach American shores, but it was Trump that allowed it to become a national crisis.
*COVID-19 Statistics for June 18, 2020: United States has reported 2,236,028 cases and 119,959 deaths. The United States remains the leader in both cases and deaths. South Korea has had a total of 12,257 cases and 280 deaths. Globally, there have been 8,478,580 cases and 452,231 deaths. In 2018 the United States had a population of 329,884,198; South Korea had a population of 51,780,579. So, the United States is roughly 6.4 % times the population of South Korean. If it had the South Korean rate of infections and deaths, the United States would have had only 78,445 cases and 1,792 deaths. The United States accounts for 26.4% of all cases and 26.5% of all deaths globally even though we have only 4.25% of the world’s population.
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