COVID-19 in the US: What Went Wrong

How a worldwide pandemic uncovered the dysfunctionality of the American government.


International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

The Capitol building of the United States in Washington D.C.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc in the United States. Many American lives have been disrupted, not just because of the virus itself, but because of the U.S. government’s incompetence in handling the outbreak.

As dangerous as this pandemic is, shouldn’t a wealthy and powerful country like the United States have it more under control and better handled compared to other countries with fewer resources and less influence? This outbreak has inevitably exposed the problems within the U.S. government and led to the public questioning the government’s decisions throughout the course of the pandemic.

Why aren’t people getting tested? How did the rich get their hands on a test without waiting? What about the minimum-wage workers still being forced to work? These unsolved questions have led to widespread problems across the country including cases and deaths that could have been prevented.

Graph of how many tests the U.S. has conducted compared to other countries in the world.

The U.S. was extremely delayed in responding to the pandemic, even downplaying the effects it would eventually have on the country at first, with the president calling it a “hoax”. On January 22 in an interview, President Trump stated, “…We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

Merely two months after that interview, the U.S. would come to be the most infected country in the world with a jaw-dropping number of 163,539 known cases.

Not only did Trump demean the significance of the virus at first, but later called it the “Chinese Virus” on multiple occasions. Unacceptable and ignorant comments like these not only further stimulate and encourage already present xenophobia and racist hate against East Asians but stigmatizes and places the blame of the virus among them when the vast majority had nothing to do with the spread. Others will also think it’s okay for them to make racist remarks like these since the very president of the United States did.

Jabin Botsford, The Washington Post
Trump crosses out “coronavirus” and writes in “Chinese” in his speaker’s notes for a press conference.

In the government’s defense, it is partly false that the U.S. refused tests from the World Health Organization (WHO), as claimed by Joe Biden. The U.S. simply did not use the WHO’s tests and wanted to make tests of its own with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

However, because of this, the U.S. was extremely delayed in the process of testing. South Korea started testing 10,000 people a day through innovative ways such as drive-throughs as soon as the outbreak began. Germany’s fatality rate has only been .5%, because of early and frequent testing, testing 120,000 people a week

Tests in the U.S. were sent out in early February, but they were found defective, hindering tests from taking place. Even when functioning tests were finally provided, they weren’t used to benefit the general American public. Due to the short supply, the priority was given to the rich.

Idris Elba and Utah Jazz players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are among the few celebrities who suspiciously got tested fast, at a time when test kits were rare. The truly outrageous news came when Kris Jenner, who was asymptomatic, announced that she tested negative for the virus after possible exposure at a birthday party. Should an asymptomatic Kris Jenner have been tested before a 40-year-old with a fever and a relentless cough?

The state of Oklahoma used 60% of its testing capacity on testing NBA members. What does that say about what the government thinks about the safety and wellbeing of the general population?

Celebrities were getting tested without waiting, even asymptomatic ones, while the general population could not even get tested with a 104-degree fever during the shortage.

As late as March 6, a busy clinic in Texas only had enough kits to test three people. People in the U.S. with symptoms of coronavirus were told they weren’t eligible for testing unless they had been out of the country or had direct contact with someone who had it, even when the virus was already spread throughout the country. Testing swabs were running short even as late as March 18.

It is absolutely ridiculous that the rich are always prioritized, even during a global crisis. The interests and safety of the general population and the working class are still being put aside for the wealthy.

It is speculated that the Trump administration purposely did not start testing aggressively at first because more testing would lead to more diagnoses and cases, potentially hurting Trump’s chances of re-election for the 2020 Presidential Election.

According to NPR, “….He did not push to do aggressive additional testing in recent weeks, and that’s partly because more testing might have led to more cases being discovered of coronavirus outbreak…the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential reelection this fall.”

Another factor that encouraged the avoidable widespread of COVID-19 was the Trump administration’s firing of the entire pandemic response team in 2018. John Bolton, chosen as the leader of the National Security Council in April 2018 by President Trump, dissolved the pandemic response team in May 2018, and never replaced them. 

The government’s pandemic response team was created by the Obama administration after the Ebola crisis in 2014 to prevent, track, monitor, and predict the severity of any future disease outbreak. The impact of the team would have accelerated the response to the virus, anticipated failed solutions, avoided a shortage of personal protective equipment, and strengthened lab capacities to process tests.

Many flaws in the U.S. healthcare system are being exposed, as well. Hospitals are running out of medical equipment such as masks and ventilators, and nurses and doctors are having to use alternative but ineffective methods of protection when handling patients. For example, photos of nurses wearing garbage bags as protection have circulated the internet. Recently, a New York City nurse passed away after contracting coronavirus from a patient due to not having proper protective equipment. Doctors and nurses will soon be forced to make the decision of who deserves ventilators more as more people contract the virus. People with intellectual disabilities such as down syndrome may be denied ventilators over neurotypical people.

Additionally, the United States has one of the worst healthcare systems among developed countries. The biggest single problem contributing to this title is the expenses. A large portion of the population lacks health insurance, and even for those with health insurance, the out-of-pocket costs are higher than those of any other country.

People forgo medical care in even serious conditions because of cost barriers. Crowdsourcing money for surgeries and insulin has become common among people who can’t afford to pay for such services. Now, even during a global pandemic, people still might be wary to receive treatment for the coronavirus. 

Although testing is free, the treatment can be costly. Even if no specific treatment is prescribed, a single consultation with a doctor could cost up to $250. Imagine what the cost would be if they were hospitalized.

A woman was charged $34,927.43 to get treated for coronavirus. Numbers like these are absolutely ridiculous; no one should be faced with those costs, especially during a global pandemic. 

Grace Meng (@Grace4NY) on Twitter
An example of daily struggles that hospital workers are experiencing daily.

Furthermore, nurses and doctors are being overworked with too many patients to take care of. They are experiencing extreme emotional and physical distress, and working 12-hour shifts, putting themselves at risk without proper equipment.

The United States Congress recently passed a $2 trillion dollar stimulus package to provide aid to individuals and businesses during the outbreak. 

The stimulus package is the largest of its kind in history, and the Senate approved it unanimously. The package is a noteworthy temporary solution to helping families and businesses, and it is a respectable decision by the government. 

But where did this money come from? How come the government can suddenly pull out billions of dollars to put into companies when workers aren’t even getting paid a fair wage? Even during this time, there are still senators who voted against extending paid sick leave for workers. 

The minimum wage workers deemed as unskilled and not important enough to be earning more than $7.25 an hour are the most essential workers right now. Grocery baggers, janitors, cooks, etc. are all putting themselves on the front line during this time to provide food and sanitary conditions for everyone.

Shouldn’t this open people’s eyes to the fact that our unskilled workers are important as they provide the most essential services to society? Shouldn’t people realize that they deserve more than the federal minimum wage, which has been proven to be extremely hard to live on?

Shouldn’t this open people’s eyes to the fact that our unskilled workers are important as they provide the most essential services to society?”

Additionally, undocumented immigrants will be left out of that $2 trillion relief package. The same undocumented immigrants keeping the U.S. afloat and working the essential jobs that no one else will during this time won’t be receiving any benefits. 

Today’s undocumented immigrants are probably likely to pay more taxes than Donald Trump himself. They are an essential part of our economy and society and deserve help during this time just as much as U.S. citizens do. Let’s not forget, undocumented immigrants have children, too – children who were either born here or were brought here as young children with no choice. Don’t they deserve aid?

All of these issues could have been prevented in many ways. If the Trump administration did not try to downplay the gravity of the pandemic at first, perhaps the U.S. would have been prepared with the proper medical equipment to treat patients. Perhaps if the pandemic response team was not fired, they would have responded quickly and made sure people were getting tested. Perhaps if essential workers were paid a wage they could live with, the country wouldn’t be struggling as much as it is.

The United States, with the world’s biggest economy, and leading the world in medical research and technological innovation, should be well prepared for anything like the coronavirus outbreak. Although this is an unprecedented event, this pandemic has been handled very poorly by the government. These problems are significantly affecting American lives, and demonstrate how the government puts the powerful and their own self-interest over the American people. It’s time to start holding them accountable.