A lot has changed in the last week due to the arrival of COVID-19 in the United States.
As recently as March 7, Lebron James scoffed at the idea of playing NBA games without any fans present. Lucky for him, he never had to play without them, as the NBA season was suspended five days later. Now, restaurants and bars are closed due to social distancing measures being enacted across the nation.
This may all seem like swift and extreme action, but the U.S. response to this virus was neither swift nor extreme enough to avoid the crisis we will find ourselves in for the foreseeable future. The true tragedy is that if extreme action had been taken earlier, thousands of lives could have been saved.
It is easy to look back at our government’s inaction and lay out a plan for what we should have done knowing our current situation. After all, how could we have predicted that the virus would spread like this?
Oh wait –– we could have. And we actually did.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States on Jan. 20.
On Feb. 5, an artificial intelligence simulation of the spread of coronavirus predicted the disease would kill 53 million people in the next 45 days.
Doctors said the simulation was probably inaccurate, in part due to the fact that as the disease spread, behavior would change to slow it down. To be fair, coronavirus has not killed 53 million people and it has almost been 45 days since the initial prediction.
But let’s not pretend we weren’t warned.
After weeks of undetected spread in Washington and other parts of the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided a chilling warning during its Feb. 26 press briefing.
“Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen,” a CDC official said.
According to scientists, the virus’ spread in the U.S. was inevitable. But the country did practically nothing.
Instead of asking the World Health Organization for COVID-19 testing kits, which had been given to 60 other countries, the U.S. decided to make its own. It didn’t go well.
Only last week did major social distancing measures begin to impact American citizens who hadn’t traveled to Wuhan, and most of these came from state and local governments.
Unfortunately, the response from Nebraska’s government has not been much better.
On Monday, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced that bars and restaurants would only close on a regional basis when a second confirmed community transmission case was announced in Omaha, one to two community transmission cases were announced in Lincoln or one confirmed community transmission case was announced in any other Nebraska community.
In other words, the governor has said he wants to wait until the virus gets more difficult to contain before taking a logical step to combat the spread. However, Nebraska, like the rest of the nation, has a severe shortage of coronavirus tests, so it may be difficult to confirm any more community transmission in the state.
On March 9, Lancaster County interim health director Pat Lopez considered the coronavirus’ spread to Lincoln as “inevitable.”
But instead, our government waited, allowing the coronavirus to spread undetected around the city for several more weeks before making any changes.
Gov. Ricketts’ “wait until it happens” approach is as if I got an F on a test, but decided not to study until I inevitably received another F on the next test. Only in this case, we aren’t dealing with a GPA. Lives are at stake here.
Gov. Ricketts isn’t the only governor who has failed to show strong leadership in the midst of this crisis.
On March 14, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt posted a picture of him and his family eating out, even writing that “It’s packed tonight!”
Of course, the fact that the restaurant was packed shows that Stitt was not the only one going out as recently as Saturday, but the state’s leadership needs to set a better example than that.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice encouraged people to ‘go to Bob Evans and eat' earlier this week.
Thankfully, he closed all restaurants in the state only a day later.
But even one day can matter. According to Tomas Puyeo’s model, delaying social distancing measures by even one day will result in a 40% increase in the total number of cumulative cases.
There is a clear blueprint for how to slow down the virus effectively. On Thursday, China announced no new local cases of the coronavirus for the first time after a two-month fight. Yet, their extreme measures have yet to be replicated in the U.S., and unfortunately, that’s probably what it will take to stop the virus here. Also, let’s not forget that most of Wuhan remains on lockdown.
It doesn’t take a degree in economics to understand that closing down businesses will hurt local economies. It also doesn’t take a degree in ethics to understand that closing down businesses to save thousands of lives is worth it.
In my home of Johnson County, Kansas, so much community spread has occurred that the county has now had to limit testing to only hospitalized patients. This action is understandable, only if everyone is on lockdown and cannot spread an undetected virus any further. But no, there is no “shelter in place” ordinance like the one in the San Francisco bay area for Johnson County. And that’s a real shame.
I have been following the spread of the coronavirus for a while, and this is now my third article on the subject. Back in February, I wasted a lot of time stress-reading COVID-19 articles predicting the impending pandemic and its spread in America. To be honest, my initial “pride not panic” article was written just as much for my own sake as for the rest of this newspaper’s readers.
Yet, even I was not calling for an American lockdown at this time. Government inaction gave me a false sense of security. If the American government wasn’t trying to stop the spread of the virus, or at least not on a mass scale, then perhaps I had nothing to worry about.
But hey. Look at us. Who would’ve thought? Apparently not our elected officials.
Simply complaining about past mistakes doesn’t change them. But action, or, in this case, inaction, can keep us from continuing to make these mistakes.
Don’t wait for the government to enact a “shelter in place” ordinance before taking part in one yourself. You could be saving lives.
The government will follow out of necessity, sooner or later.
Oh, and one more thing: Wash your hands. Please.
Brian Beach is a freshman journalism major. Reach him at email@example.com.