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Outlier

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Both the Post and Times have major examinations of the extraordinary failure of American public officials to control COVID-19, producing an outbreak vastly worse than in any other peer country. The former looks at the malicious incompetence of the Trump administration:

Meadows no longer holds a daily 8 a.m. meeting that includes health professionals to discuss the raging pandemic. Instead, aides said, he huddles in the mornings with a half-dozen politically oriented aides — and when the virus comes up, their focus is more on how to convince the public that President Trump has the crisis under control, rather than on methodically planning ways to contain it.

During coronavirus meetings, Meadows has repeatedly questioned the scientific consensus that wearing masks helps contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, officials said. He has regularly raised with Fauci and others a range of issues on which he thinks Fauci has been wrong, and he personally monitors the infectious-disease expert’s media appearances. When he catches Fauci sounding out of sync with Trump, the chief of staff admonishes the doctor to “stay on message,” officials said — and he has impressed upon Fauci, Birx and other public health professionals that they should not opine on restrictions or make policy in the media.

[…]

If the administration’s initial response to the coronavirus was denial, its failure to control the pandemic since then was driven by dysfunction and resulted in a lost summer, according to the portrait that emerges from interviews with 41 senior administration officials and other people directly involved in or briefed on the response efforts. Many of them spoke only on the condition of anonymity to reveal confidential discussions or to offer candid assessments without retribution.

“Right now, we’re flying blind,” said Thomas Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Public health is not getting in the way of economic recovery and schools reopening. Public health is the means to economic recovery and schools reopening. You don’t have to believe me. Look all over the world. The U.S. is a laggard.”

As has been obvious from the beginning, Trump sincerely thinks this is a problem that can just be bullshitted away like stiffing a Mom and Pop contractor in Atlantic City. And given the nature of the Republican Party it’s not like he’s getting much pushback.

After observing that Trump’s failure is the most important, the Times goes into more detail about the specific failures and how bad the American performance has been in international context:

Together, the national skepticism toward collective action and the Trump administration’s scattered response to the virus have contributed to several specific failures and missed opportunities, Times reporting shows:

  • a lack of effective travel restrictions;
  • repeated breakdowns in testing;
  • confusing advice about masks;
  • a misunderstanding of the relationship between the virus and the economy;
  • and inconsistent messages from public officials.

Already, the American death toll is of a different order of magnitude than in most other countries. With only 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States has accounted for 22 percent of coronavirus deaths. Canada, a rich country that neighbors the United States, has a per capita death rate about half as large. And these gaps may worsen in coming weeks, given the lag between new cases and deaths.

For many Americans who survive the virus or do not contract it, the future will bring other problems. Many schools will struggle to open. And the normal activities of life — family visits, social gatherings, restaurant meals, sporting events — may be more difficult in the United States than in any other affluent country.

Both stories are worth reading in full, but they’re horrifying.

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