The coronavirus pandemic has spun out of control in the United States -- which should have been uniquely prepared to face the deadly infection.
A comprehensive review ranked the pandemic preparedness of 195 countries in October, and the Global Health Security Index Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Nuclear Threat Initiative ranked the U.S. at No. 1 with an 83.5 score on a scale of 100, reported the Washington Post.
“I just never expected that we would have such a lack of federal leadership, and it’s been deliberate,” said Beth Cameron, who helped lead the review for the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
Cameron helped write a pandemic response plan under President Barack Obama while serving as senior director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council -- which was disbanded after President Donald Trump took office.
“In a national emergency that is a pandemic, spreading between states, federal leadership is essential," Cameron said, "and if there was any doubt about that, we ran that experiment from March and April until now. It failed. So we have to run a different experiment.”
The U.S. has made almost every mistake possible since the pandemic arrived, but experts say the biggest miscalculation was the decision by some governors to throw open the doors to their economy while the virus was still spreading at high rates.
“We didn’t have the stick-to-itiveness, the determination, to carry through what we started in March, April and May, and now the virus is taking advantage of that,” said Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
“If we’d had really strong guidance from local, state and national leaders, maybe we could have sustained the determination to get the curve all the way down to zero,” Collins added. “Now, we’re on the upswing, and I don’t quite see the top of the upswing yet.”
The shutdowns of March and April effectively crushed the pandemic in most parts of the country, but that success gave many Americans the perception that the virus was less contagious and fearsome as they'd been warned.
“We just let our guard down,” said Ohio's Republican Gov. Mike DeWine. “Some people when they heard, ‘Hey, Ohio’s open,’ what they mentally processed is, ‘It’s safe. We can go out and do whatever we want to. It’s back to normal.’”
The virus has been smoldering in Ohio for two months, but DeWine now fears those embers will burst into runaway transmission like what happened in Florida.
“Florida a month ago is where Ohio is today," DeWine said. "If we don’t want to be Florida, we’ve got to change what we’re doing. Everybody’s got to mask up."
But masks have become a controversial political issue, and that has undermined efforts to restart the economy.
“If you could have written a prescription four months ago, a manual — ‘This is what you must do to deal with a virus’ — and if people could just follow the manual, we would be over this, like other countries are over it,” said New York's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “I think it exposed a fundamental weakness in this country. We have a divided country.”
“It was science denial meets government incompetence,” Cuomo added.
Those divisions fall at the feet of the president, historians say.
“You look at the Great Depression and how Roosevelt made a concerted effort to unite the country — the fireside chats, the New Deal," said James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association. "That is the instinctive reaction of almost every president in crisis. Even if you don’t succeed, you try to convince people that they’re all in this together. This presidency is the exception and anomaly.”