Right now, the U.S. leads the world in total cases of covid-19, with over 7.5 million at the time of this writing. It also leads the world in known covid-19 deaths, with over 210,000. There is no end in sight, and many experts are now predicting that we will continue to see a rise in deaths, with almost 200,000 more during the next three months.
This November, your vote will directly, literally affect the lives of you and your loved ones.
What should a government do when faced with a pandemic such as covid-19? It should have a plan in place, so that it can hit the ground running. The government should create a body to coordinate a response across all sectors. Necessary legislation should be enacted. The government should take charge of allocating resources to effectively combat the pandemic and be ready to provide additional resources as they become needed.
The government should provide truthful, reliable information about the disease. Of course, in the case of a brand-new virus like covid-19, this information may change as science discovers more facts. And finally, the leader of the government should lead by providing truthful and clear information and modeling desirable behavior.
How did our government do? When President Trump assumed office, a pandemic infrastructure and plan were already in place, courtesy of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. President Trump's administration dismantled the infrastructure and ignored the plan. The coordinating body created by the Trump administration, the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has no authority to speak of. It meets infrequently, behind closed doors, and its last press briefing was in July. There is no national strategy or plan.
Congress enacted the CARES Act and other legislation to respond to covid in early spring. It sought to prevent the collapse of the economy by helping businesses and workers. But half the people who lost their jobs this year are still unemployed. Businesses have closed and continue to close. The extra unemployment from the federal government has run out.
Just this week, first the president said Congress should make a deal for further aid. Three days later he changed his mind and said no further aid until November, and then hours later he changed his mind again and asked Congress for a stand-alone stimulus check measure. But one stimulus check won't turn the economy around. And such erratic decision-making is not good leadership.
Experts agreed that widespread testing (with rapid results) was needed, as well as contact tracing for those affected. If testing is not widespread, the virus can spread undetected and new clusters can flare up. If testing results are not rapidly available, contact tracing is useless. Without contact tracing, people who have been exposed can't isolate themselves, and the virus will continue to spread.
This is a nationwide problem, and a nationwide response was necessary. We didn't get it, and we are lagging far behind many other nations in this regard.
After six months, hospitals still face a shortage of equipment like masks and shields. At one point, states were actually bidding against each other to purchase it. What should have been done? The federal government should have forced its manufacture in sufficient amounts. Not only are health-care providers still waiting, they are treating even more cases now.
One tragedy of the covid response is how the administration has ignored or opposed science. Our society is built on scientific knowledge. Wishing will not stop a rock dropped off a cliff from falling to the ground. Wishing will not keep covid-19 from spreading. Only knowledge of the virus, gained by scientific research, and a response guided by this knowledge will allow us to recover as quickly as possible.
The lag in the U.S. recovery, when compared to other countries, is evidence that our haphazard and embarrassing response to covid has killed Americans who did not have to die.
Masks worn properly are greatly effective against spreading virus particles and can also prevent inhalation of the virus. This is proven and not a matter of debate. For our president to mock someone for wearing a mask, and to refuse to wear his own, is bad leadership. For the president to disagree with experts, and to discount their recommendations based on what he wants to happen (winning the election, the stock market recovering), is like wishing the rock won't hit the ground.
Most tragically of all, our state and the federal government are suing to take away health-care access (the Affordable Care Act) from tens of thousands of Arkansans in the middle of a pandemic, with no replacement plan. This is government at its worst.
Your vote next month will determine whether we will elect a government that cares about public health, is serious about health care for all Americans, and knows that just wishing won't stop a rock from falling. We deserve a government that will coordinate an effective, sustained response, for ourselves and our loved ones.
Lynn Foster is Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The opinions expressed here are her own and do not represent those of UA Little Rock.