Ray Grey of Hollywood, wearing a mask to protect against the coronavirus, rolls along the boardwalk in Venice Beach with his dog Poet.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Fairmont Preparatory Academy

Opinion: The US failed in its response to COVID-19

Since December 2019, COVID-19 only seemed to be a remote concern from a distant country across the Pacific Ocean. Now, the threat of the virus has already smeared all over our daily lives — especially due to the government’s relatively delayed response.

While New Zealand has recently declared they have completely eliminated the virus, according to the New York Times, the US still dwells among the threat of the virus.

As of June 22, the CDC confirmed a total of 2,275,645 new cases and 119,923 deaths within the US, accounting for a mere 24.9% of the total positive cases across the globe. It is worth taking note of what attributed to such appalling statistics in different countries — from government policies to people’s awareness of safety. 

South Korea, which once had the second-most cases of COVID-19 in the world, has succeeded to dramatically reduce the new cases and deaths to less than 300 deaths by May 6, according to The Atlantic. In addition, according to the World Economic Forum, the Korean government has even reported no new case of virus infection on April 30.

The significant reduction of infection attributes to the Korean government’s strict and transparent response to the pandemic. Most significantly, the Korean government placed a greater emphasis on protecting medical officials to retain the hospital infrastructure.

According to Michael J. Ahn, a reporter from Brookings, the widespread distribution of disinfectant clothes, testing devices and sufficient government fundings to hospitals especially made the country a leading figure in vaccine development.

The country’s intricate internet infrastructure enabled a more effective tracking method.

For instance, the government required a close-down of areas that COVID-19 patients have visited, based on the analysis of the patient’s credit card transaction and internet usage history. The complex online network also created a number of efficient virus testing methods, such as drive-through testing and text-messaged results, according to Ahn.

Still, the biggest factor that led to the decline of the virus — despite the effective government policies listed above — was the widespread culture of wearing masks.

Accustomed to the annual visits of micro dust storms, wearing masks was already a prevalent culture in Korea even before the pandemic. Now with the virus, the country has further increased mask production through government funding, according to Ahn. Moreover, he explained that as a response to mask shortages in some areas, a number of mask-tracking smartphone apps were developed. 

New Zealand is also an important example to look at.

New Zealand’s response to the virus resembles that of South Korea, also incorporating strict and systematic policies from the government.

Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, has especially played a significant role in leading the country out of the virus in a remarkably short time period. According to CNN, Ardern delivered a speech in late March at the very onset of the virus pandemic, warning the probable danger of the virus and declaring a lockdown. Whether the speech was a scare tactic still remains unclear.

However, her early response to the virus pandemic greatly reduced the spread of the virus in the first place.

On April 8, she declared a compulsory two-weeks quarantine with only 6 reported cases of the virus. Promptly, she also required two weeks of quarantine for any travels oversea, before any other major countries, according to CNN.

With her solid leadership, New Zealanders have since complied with the safety and quarantine rules, further preventing the spread of the virus. Along with the country’s extremely low population density, Ardern’s policies have successfully led New Zealand out of the terror of the virus. 

Looking at the responses of the countries above, it is quite peculiar why the US, the most affluent country in the world, is still suffering from the virus.

A closer observation of our response, however, makes the answer seem rather clearer. Most notably: late governmental response.

According to USA Today, January 15 marked the first reported case of COVID-19 in the US. While the Trump administration declared on January 22 everything was under control, the government took no significant attempt to oppress the virus for the next six weeks — no quarantine, no mask supplies, no social distancing.

In addition, the high cost of healthcare, due to the excessive administrative costs, has made virus testings and treatment inaccessible for a significant portion of the US population. The lack of testing devices compared to the population especially created chaos in more populated regions such as New York.

Most importantly, however, the low awareness of safety played the biggest role in the expansion of the virus within the states. The lack of mask supplies and hand sanitizers had numerous people roam around the streets without any masks or gloves on. 

What the current pandemic imparts to us is not a transient necessity of masks and hand sanitizers; the sense of safety awareness and mutual respect should be habitualized, even when the virus finally loses its power.

In a broader scope, it is also imperative for the government to place a greater emphasis on healthcare so that a tragedy of 2020 would not happen again.