By David M. Greenwald
As stunning as the events were at the Capitol this week, there is a lesser told story of official negligence that in the long term might be an even more profound failure of this administration. The President and his supporters celebrated when the vaccine for COVID was produced and available for market in record time.
Whether the president deserves credit for this or not is almost entirely irrelevant. What has happened since the election shows that, while he may have won the war, we have lost the peace. Or perhaps to revisit the analogy I used a few weeks ago, we have spiked the ball at the 20 yard line, to see our drive stall and not get into the actual end zone.
What we have seen since November is an almost complete abdication of leadership by the federal government in the area of COVID. While we can fault the administration for failing to take the threat as seriously as they should have, we certainly fault them for creating an atmosphere among Trump’s supporters where regulations are fought against and masks are viewed as a sign against freedom rather than a mechanism to protect public safety.
What we have seen since the election is a crisis spinning out of control, threatening public health in ways that were entirely avoidable. And now with multiple potential mutations, who knows how easy this will be to contain in the future.
It is perhaps fitting that the same week we saw the insurgence march on the Capitol, we have crossed two ominous new milestones. First, on Thursday, the number of COVID deaths in a single day exceeded 4000 for the first time. Remember that as recently as September, we were under 1000 a day, which means that the number of deaths has more than quadrupled in the last three months.
Second, on Friday, we topped a new record for new cases—over 300,000. Again, in August we were mostly under 50,000 new cases in a day, so the number of new cases has increased more than six-fold since that time.
Over the last week, we have averaged nearly 260,000 cases a day, which is an increase of 40 percent over the average from just two weeks ago.
In December, 77,000 people died from COVID, by far the highest one-month total. And unless things come under control quickly, January may well top 100,000 deaths. The NY Times reports that the surge in deaths is not confined to a single region, with states like New Jersey, Florida, Arizona, Michigan and Texas each seeing 500 deaths in just a week.
The failure of federal officials and now state officials to get a handle on and attempt to contain the outbreak is a huge problem. Too many people have been complacent. Last week we saw a Congressman-elect, a relatively young man in his early 40s, die from COVID. That should alarm people who think if they are relatively young that they will not face a severe case that ends up being life threatening.
The failure to contain is now being compounded by a very slow rollout of the vaccine. In November, the national media was warning that the infrastructure and planning for the rollout was not being planned or funded. That should have been a warning that we were going to face the type of problems that we have.
As of January 7, just under 6 million people had received the first dose of the vaccine.
As Fortune Magazine points out: “[A]ny close inspection of the facets and layers of a national vaccination rollout should lead us past politics and straight to the realization that, even under the best circumstances, it was never going to be smooth—and it was destined to take longer than anyone wanted to admit.”
That’s probably a good point. We should have recognized the reality of coordinating something this massive and complex under the best of circumstances, and recognized that it would be fraught with difficulties that were not anticipated in the initial planning.
Still, Fortune doesn’t let the administration off the hook, noting the “administration’s bungling of the process hasn’t helped” and the “failures are amplified by the signals put out by the folks at the top. While the President plays golf and the vice president takes to the slopes in Vail, intensive care units (ICUs) are filling to capacity, with patients sometimes being attended in parking lots, hospital chapels, and gift shops.”
They add that “the one thing the Trump administration promised for months, a well-constructed distribution plan via Operation Warp Speed, looks like so many empty words.”
A few days ago the New York Times reported that “federal health officials recently acknowledged that the vaccine rollout had had a slower-than-expected start and said they did not have a clear understanding as to why only a portion of the doses shipped across the nation had made it into arms.”
The bottom line here—it is great that we have a vaccine, but without a viable distribution plan, that vaccine is not going to do much to stem the tide of COVID cases. It is perhaps fitting that the cases are reaching new highs, weeks after the first vaccine was delivered.
We still haven’t reached the post-Christmas holiday spike and officials like Dr. Fauci continue to warn that the worst is yet to come. Can a new Biden administration turn the tide, starting in about 11 days when they take over? Time will tell.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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