NEW YORK – A president who downplayed the coronavirus threat, scorned masks and undercut scientists at every turn. Governors who resisted or rolled back containment measures amid public backlash. State lawmakers who used federal COVID-19 aid to plug budget holes instead of beefing up testing and contact tracing.
As a powerful new wave of infections sweeps the U.S. just ahead of Election Day, the nation's handling of the nearly 8-month-old crisis has been marked by what health experts see as grave missteps, wasted time and squandered opportunities by leaders at all levels of government.
The result: The country could be looking at a terrible winter.
“The inconsistency of the response is what’s been so frustrating,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. “If we had just been disciplined about employing all these public health methods early and aggressively, we would not be in the situation we are in now.”
Though Redlener sees some of the new wave as inevitable, he estimates at least 130,000 of the nation's more than 227,000 deaths could have been avoided had the country more widely embraced masks and social distancing.
Even if a Chinese-style lockdown wasn’t possible, Redlener said, a more modest approach like Canada’s, with a strong central message of caution in reopening and widespread mask-wearing and distancing, would have saved lives over the state-by-state and widely partisan approach.
Now the U.S. is seeing cases spike, especially in the Midwest and the Plains, with the country posting a record high number of new infections last week of nearly a half-million.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, likewise pointed to states’ varied responses to reopening for the rocketing case numbers.