U.S recorded its first death from covid-19 on February 29, 2019, in the state of Seattle. Less than a year later, it surpassed the symbolic threshold of half a million deaths.
President Joe Biden paid tribute on Monday to the 500,000 deaths from coronavirus, which already exceed the number of deaths of Americans in three great wars (the First and Second World Wars and that of Vietnam).
“500,000 lives lost to Covid-19. It is an immeasurable number, but each one represents a family that will never be complete again,” said the president, who since he was installed in the White House on January 20, in clear that it would take strong measures to stop the expansion of Covid-19.
Why was the first world power, which holds the sad record for the highest number of deaths from the virus, was hit so hard? What are the first lessons that experts draw from this pandemic year?
A pandemic that no one expected, a disorderly response from the government of Donald Trump, the politicization of the use of the mask …
The president of the United States, Joe Biden, and his wife Jill, in an emotional ceremony at the White House on Monday night, after the country surpassed 500,000 deaths from coronavirus. Photo: BLOOMBERG
These are some answers given by Joseph Masci, 70, who has fought all infectious diseases since the emergence of AIDS and today is one of the people in charge of the Elmhurst Hospital in Queens -in the center of the pandemic in New York-, and by Michele Halpern, an infectious disease specialist for the Montefiore Hospital Group, based in New Rochelle, a New York suburb where the epidemic hit hard a year ago.
The element of surprise
Before the pandemic, the United States watched coronaviruses “from afar,” Dr. Masci noted. “There were cases of SARS in Canada, but almost nothing or very little in our country, and nothing of MERS (the other two respiratory viruses that became epidemic in Asia in 2002 and 2012). There were many preparations against Ebola in the United States But it never really got here. And suddenly, the United States is at the epicenter of the problem, “he explained.
For this expert, it is difficult to compare the American management of the disease to that of other nations. “I think that small countries with structured health services were better prepared to react quickly. In a country like ours, with 50 states, a huge area, a largely private hospital network, it was going to be difficult to bring everyone together in around the same strategy, “he added.
The Trump administration’s “messy” reaction It didn’t help, in his opinion. “For hospitals to compete for protective equipment made no sense. They should have centralized that very quickly, and they didn’t. It was a battle to overcome those obstacles,” he said.
A photo that became a symbol of the pandemic disaster in the United States, in April 2020: a patient with coronavirus, admitted at full speed to a hospital in New York. Photo: AFP
Chinstrap and political fight
For both him and Michele Halpern, one of the mistakes was to let the wearing of the chinstrap become “a political question.”
“It’s just a public health issue” and “it’s going to be difficult to rephrase that for leaders at the national level,” Masci said.
“People shouldn’t react so strongly (to the mask) and see it as a limit to their freedoms,” Halpern said. “It is not difficult to wear a mask, you get used to it. But it is necessary to make people understand that it is important.”
For Dr. Masci, the first lesson is to learn to reconfigure hospitals to cope with a surge of patients.
“We participated in disaster preparedness exercises, we did a lot of exercises, but we had never done anything to simulate this, suddenly going from 12 beds in intensive care to 150, with the necessary personnel and equipment,” he illustrated.
Over the months, the group of public hospitals that Elmhurst integrates “found strategies to distribute the burden among the 11 New York public hospitals. As if instead of having a hospital with 500 beds, we now had 11 hospitals with 5,000, and that it works fine, “he said.
A mobile station to detect Covid-19 cases, on a street in Brooklyn, New York, at the end of January. Photo: AFP
More generally, Halpern pointed out, “we must realize that hospitals need resources. You have to invest in research, but also in hospitals, nursing homes. You have to have enough staff, and they have the equipment they need. The leaders must be attentive to the needs of the staff. “
Pandemic and inequality
The epidemic also exposed inequalities in health in the United States, especially housing problems for black and Latino minorities, with many people sharing small spaces, Masci stressed. It is imperative to see “how housing can be adapted to future epidemics, because there will be others,” he said.
Despite the acceleration of the vaccination campaign, experts are cautious in the light of the uncertainties surrounding the South African and British variants of the virus.
If they don’t become “a huge problem”, and we reach 70% to 80% of the vaccinated population, “there is a good chance that we will not use more masks,” Masci said. But if the variants are installed, “it is much more difficult to say that we will have left the problem behind” in December.
“It is encouraging to see that the second wave was relatively controlled, at least in New York,” Halpern said. “I hope that the vaccines are effective, but it is difficult to be sure that they will be effective in the long term or on new variants. You have to prepare for this to last a while,” he warned.
In the long term, Masci said, “we must not fall into the deception of forgetting” and stop thinking about the pandemic once it is over.
“It’s disturbing to think that all of this came without warning. So many basic necessities were shaken up. We really need to have a global pathogen detection system, because we live in an age where we can no longer say ‘there is something going on in Asia that will not affect the United States. ‘
“I know there are no words that can ease the pain,” President Biden said in a message Monday night from the White House. “To those who have lost loved ones: I know there are no words that can ease the pain, but I hope you find some comfort in knowing that the nation is in mourning with you,” he said.
But the president’s message was also political: “We must end the politics and misinformation that has divided families, communities in the country, which have already claimed many lives. It is not that Democrats and Republicans are dying from the virus. They are our fellow Americans, our neighbors, friends, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands, wife … “, he listed.
Source: AFP and ANSA