It’s the latest buzz on the streets. Everyone’s talking about it and it’s not getting any better. The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has now spread to every continent on Earth except Antarctica, with more than 169,000 confirmed cases and 6,500 deaths worldwide as of writing this column — and those numbers are steadily increasing.
While daily cases have begun to slow down in China, where the first victims were infected, cases continue to rise exponentially in the west, with Europe being considered the epicenter of the current outbreak. Despite this, it’s not too radical to predict that the epicenter will soon move from Europe to the United States. The truth is that the U.S. federal government has failed to take common sense actions necessary to curb the coronavirus, and incompetencies in governance and crisis leadership continue to this day. The Trump administration should be praying for a stroke of luck if they hope to avoid the mass carnage the virus has brought to Europe.
When early signals of alarm were evident in January and February, the U.S. government initially sought to quell fears by nonchalantly downplaying the whole outbreak. In late February, President Donald Trump assured Americans that the coronavirus was a “problem that’s going to go away,” and that the situation in the United States was “under control.” By this time, Italy had already seen major spikes in coronavirus cases and had begun shutting down entire towns. Trump most likely sought to downplay the outbreak because of its major effects on the stock market. During times of public health emergencies, business and profit should be the last concern of a world leader.
As of late, Trump has claimed the United States was one of the most prepared nations in the world in the face of pandemic. This, unsurprisingly, just isn’t true. According to Laurie Garrett, a former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, through actions taken by the Trump administration in 2018, the government has “intentionally rendered itself incapable.” This is because, as stated by Garrett, “the Trump administration fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure” in 2018. This left the federal government with almost no concise plan with what to do in case of a pandemic and no specialized team assigned to tackle the problem. Not only this, but following the globalization of the outbreak in early February, the president argued for significant cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In late February, the White House must’ve realized the severity of the coronavirus, because they then requested $1.25 billion in aid from Congress. This, in hindsight, was still an act of apathy, for on March 13, Trump declared a state of national emergency, allowing the government to spend as much as $50 billion to combat the virus.
Trump has called concerns regarding the virus a “hoax” promulgated by the Democratic Party in an effort to indicate that American media hysteria has been unjustified. This dangerously implies that Trump is taking an issue of public health and making it an issue of party partisanship. However, he is not the only national leader to blame. For days now, Congress has been trying to pass an emergency coronavirus bill, which is meant to address some major aspects of society that will be affected by the virus. The Congressional recess was even postponed in an effort to pass a bill as quickly as possible. However, for the past week, Republican lawmakers have voiced opposition to the proposed bill, further extending the time any law would take to be put into place. According to NPR, a deal would include “free coverage for coronavirus testing, extended unemployment insurance, paid sick leave and expanded food assistance as the pandemic takes a larger toll on the United States and global economies.” A deal was finally reached Saturday morning, only after another 277 new cases were confirmed in a single day. While the ultimate deal provided all that was promised, the paid sick leave only applies to employees working for businesses with fewer than 500 total employees — leaving millions vulnerable still.
It’s become obvious in the past few weeks that the United States needs to begin taking this virus much more seriously. There is a strong lack of general concern among leaders, and this lack of concern is visible through the lack of test kit availability and institutional action. It is much smarter to tackle an issue like this through preemptive means instead of when the issue has expanded beyond measure. If the virus is curbed early on, it means fewer infections and ultimately fewer deaths. Despite this, even as I write this article, BU classes continue to be conducted in person, and administrators say an early cancellation only would occur if a case is confirmed on campus. For now, just wash your hands and hope for the best.
David Hatami is a sophomore majoring in political science.