The U.S. reported precisely 3,400 deaths from covid-19 on Wednesday, a new record in a long list of new records this month. And there’s not much more to say that hasn’t already been said about this avoidable tragedy — the greatest failure of American political institutions to protect human life in recent U.S. history.
Every death from covid-19 recorded on Wednesday was a choice by U.S. political leaders at the federal, state, and local level. Most commonly, it was a choice of inaction. It was a refusal to institute mask mandates after western scientists finally started taking the advice of health experts in Asia; a refusal to pay the average American to stay home; a refusal to adequately pay small businesses to stay closed; a refusal to coordinate a national response in an enormous country where closing state borders was never entertained as politically feasible.
There was simply no excuse to let it get this bad, with over 16.9 million infections and more than 307,501 American deaths since the pandemic began. Over 113,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with covid-19 and many of those people will die alone in the hospital without their loved ones by their side. But we now know that some leaders at the federal level made the choice to actively make the pandemic worse, not simply through inaction, but by encouraging policies that would expose more people to the virus.
We now have confirmation of what many long suspected was the White House’s plan all along. Newly released emails show that high-ranking officials at the department of Health and Human Services wanted the virus to spread rapidly in the U.S. to achieve natural herd immunity — a plan that by some estimates would leave roughly 1 million Americans dead, to say nothing of the long term illness many people who survived covid-19 still suffer.
“There is no other way, we need to establish herd, and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD,” Trump regime science adviser Paul Alexander wrote to his superiors on July 4 in an email obtained by Politico and first revealed Wednesday night.
“Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk….so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected…” Alexander wrote.
Herd immunity is the idea that after enough people have been exposed to the virus, either through vaccination or natural immunity achieved by getting the disease and surviving, the remaining population that hasn’t been infected will be protected. “Herd immunity” is typically discussed by epidemiologists in the context of achieving a vaccination rate of somewhere around 70% of the total population, but in this case Alexander is using the term as a shorthand for natural herd immunity through infection, rather than through vaccination.
Children have fared better than other age groups during the pandemic but they’re not immune from the disease. Health care providers around the world have identified something they’ve called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a range of health issues that can present themself long after kids first get diagnosed with covid-19. The CDC reports 23 children have died from MIS-C, though the number is likely higher.
The novel coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, China a year ago this month, and in the following two months the global health crisis would become politicized by Republicans even before it was declared a pandemic. President Donald Trump and his criminally negligent regime wasted all of February with faulty tests while the rest of the world was ramping up testing and contact tracing programs. Trump and his army of soulless sycophants continually downplayed the risk to human life, insisting early on that the pandemic was both contained and that the new disease was really no worse than the common flu.
The U.S. was damned to this fate from the start, not just by craven politicians but by a far-right wing media establishment that turned public health policy into yet another culture war. Laura Ingraham of Fox News gave a platform to countless quacks who kept insisting that this new virus was nothing but hype, intended merely to swing the election for Democratic presidential nominee, and now president-elect, Joe Biden. As late as May, Ingraham was hosting “experts” who insisted that all respiratory disease epidemics just “go away” after five weeks.
Even after Trump himself got the virus, and recovered thanks to a treatment regimen that only ten other people had received, he refused to encourage other Americans to take the pandemic seriously. Rather than present a clear-headed vision for how the U.S. might stomp out the virus and its ability to spread throughout the country, Trump simply gave himself as an example of how a truly strong person could beat the disease.
“Don’t be afraid of Covid,” Trump wrote on Twitter, echoing a video message he would send the same day. “Don’t let it dominate your life.”
Extremists on the right kept insisting that it was a choice between letting people die and the survival of the U.S. economy. But that was never the choice. Allowing a highly contagious virus to rip through any society largely unabated has economic consequences far greater than paying people to stay home for an extended but definite period of time. The whole world has seen this play out in real time, as countries that have gotten their covid-19 numbers under control return to some version of “normal” while millions in the U.S. lose their lives and livelihoods.
China, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore are just a few examples of countries that have virtually eradicated the virus. And while their economies have struggled, each shows signs of rebounding.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is struggling economically by all the metrics that matter. The stock market is soaring to all-time highs and the wealthiest people in the country, from Elon Musk to Jeff Bezos, are as rich as they’ve ever been. But millions of regular Americans have become newly unemployed this year and an estimated 50 million Americans are currently experiencing food insecurity, according to the hunger relief organisation Feeding America. A troubling number of those Americans experiencing food insecurity are children who don’t have enough to eat.
Vaccines are coming. Vaccines will help people as they’re slowly rolled out to a nation of 330 million people, most of whom grieve for the loss of both human life and normalcy. But it didn’t have to be this way. It’s not because the people of China or Vietnam or New Zealand are smarter than Americans. Those countries have their own covid-deniers and idiots. But each government that got it right decided to act, rather than place the burden on individual citizens to do the proper thing and mitigate the spread. Wearing a mask is great, but even universal masking will not end the pandemic alone. You can’t abandon government action and place your society’s fate in the hands of your most selfish citizens.
You know all this. You’ve seen the videos of people vacationing in Wuhan. You’ve seen the photos of 50,000 fans packing stadiums for sporting events in Australia. You’ve seen the kilometres-long lines of Americans waiting for food from relief organisations.
It didn’t have to be this way. Precisely 3,400 Americans died yesterday, and this was a choice. It was a choice made for you by politicians like Donald Trump who don’t care whether you live or die. And it’s not clear what more there is to say about any of it.