With nearly 300,000 deaths in the US as a result of the coronavirus, the US death toll reportedly accounts for 21% of all deaths worldwide, “even though only 4% of the world’s population is alive” (Fire, 2020). This underscores the current, unfortunate irony of a country whose constitution says it was designed to “maintain peace of mind, provide common defense, promote general welfare, and secure the blessings of freedom for us and our posterity “(US Const. Pmbl.). The overall well-being of the nation is at risk from the ineffective control of the virus under the direction of President Donald Trump. In fact, the ratings of the US reputation among its global partners are lower than ever before (Wike, Fetterolf & Mordecai, 2020). It therefore seems only logical to conclude from this that the continuation of the country’s current handling of the coronavirus would lead to an inevitable loss of international confidence in the strength of the US. The decline in international confidence is the one that should not be taken lightly. The political, economic, and broader social implications would undermine the nation’s years of progress up to that period. If the spread of a deadly virus is not controlled, country leaders would ultimately be forced to continue banning or restricting US travel. The continued deterioration of these relationships will leave the US behind for many years in terms of growth.
At a time of crisis, one would logically hope that a support and resolution strategy would have been prepared. Of course, there can be situations in which rapid, unexpected developments have little time to prepare and plan. However, the case of the coronavirus, or the COVID-19 outbreak, was the one that had been predicted a few years before the first case within the nation. Unfortunately, over time, discussions on this topic have shifted from rational, evidence-based assessments to politically motivated investigations by politicians, government officials, and other relevant parties. It is therefore important to make the following changes to reduce the possibility of further deaths and the likelihood of future economic decline in the event of further government lockdowns
- Directorates focused on preparing for pandemics should be reinstated
- CDC centers and other similar health centers abroad (particularly in China) should be filled
- A holistic, multidisciplinary policy on resource and strategy readiness should be implemented (including a strong reliance on scientific knowledge).
It is recommended that the US move from its current arbitrary treatment of the virus to a more structured, evidence-based process that primarily uses scientific assessment methods. Additionally, the virus’ easy transmissibility has made states reopening ideal opportunities for more US people to contract the virus. In fact, Dr. Robert Redfield (2020), the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claims that 90% of the US population remains susceptible to the virus (Gringlas, 2020). Therefore, improved methods of dealing with the pandemic based on stricter guidelines should be the way forward. While the government must recognize the economic pressures associated with maintaining a nation locked in for many consecutive weeks, it will also be important to note that there are ideal ways to address these issues by using only masks or public interactions Appropriate face covers are allowed. This could include imposing severe penalties on those who do not adhere to the guidelines.
This outbreak should also be seen as the main lesson for the future and an opportunity for the nation to strengthen its political practices. Although warnings were issued prior to this outbreak, the country failed to heed or respond appropriately. Hence, this length of time in US history should be viewed as a lesson in what not to do when such a dangerous virus breaks out.
Coronavirus Outbreak: Beginnings, Warnings, and Errors
On December 31, 2019, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission in Wuhan, China, reported an “accumulation of cases of pneumonia” (“WHO Timeline”, 2020). According to a Cambridge University geneticist, it is likely that the virus “has mutated into its final months” “human efficient” [prior to the first cases]but stayed in a bat or other animal or even human for several months without infecting other individuals ”(Shaw, 2020). Just thirty days after this report, a 35-year-old man presented “to an emergency clinic in Snohomish County, Washington, with a 4-day history of cough and subjective fever” (Holshue, Debolt, Lindquist, Lofy, Wiesman, et al., 2020, p.929). Based on the patient’s travel history to Wuhan and the symptoms he was showing, the nursing clinic tested him for coronavirus. By January 20, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed that the patient had tested positive for COVID-19.
While this seems like a simple scenario that started with a random case of an unknown virus, it is unfortunately not a factual representation. In 2018, the US Worldwide Threat Assessment was published with a component on the topic of “health”. This section warned that “a novel strain of virulent microbe easily transmitted between humans remains a major threat, with pathogens such as H5N1 and H7N9 influenza and respiratory syndrome in the Middle East [MERS] Coronavirus with pandemic potential if it is to be efficiently transmitted from person to person ”(Coats, 2018, p. 17). Although the report did not predict the details of the virus (e.g. COVID-19), it specifically mentioned the MERS coronavirus and provided sufficient detail to warn of a possible pandemic related to such viruses.
Similarly, the Health section of the 2019 Global Threat Assessment again reported a pandemic warning. The evaluations assumed that the US and the world would continue to be vulnerable to the next pandemic flu or large-scale contagious disease outbreak, which could result in massive death and disability rates, severely affect the global economy, strain international resources and increase calls on the United States for assistance ”(Coats, 2019, p. 21). The report also contained a warning that the close proximity of humans and animals may have increased the possibility of disease transmission (Coats, 2019, p. 21). The document even found that “the number of outbreaks has increased in part because pathogens originally found in animals have spread to human populations” (Coats, 2019, p. 21).
Intelligence reports on the coronavirus would have likely identified the warnings that Dr. Li Wenliang shared in China in December 2019. Dr. Wenliang posted a video warning of seven cases that he had observed to be similar to the SARS virus responsible for the SARS virus pandemic in 2003 (“Li Wenliang,” 2020). Dr. Wenliang was confronted by the Public Security Bureau, which believed he was simply disrupting social order. Nonetheless, these types of reports would likely have been identified by the US National Medical Intelligence Center (NCMI) in the course of their investigation (“Li Wenliang,” 2020).
If officials had relied on, at least, only the information in the threat assessments, there would have been ample reason to ensure that the strategic national reserve had an appropriate number of masks in preparation for an outbreak. During the H1N1 outbreak and other crises observed in the nation, the required N95 respirators and face masks were widely used. In fact, reports show that approximately “75% of the N95 respirators and 25% of the face masks included in the CDC’s Strategic National Stockpile (100 million products) were used for healthcare purposes during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic response “. (Patel, D’Alessandro, Ireland, Burel, Wencil & Rasmussen, 2017, p. 245).
As a result of the congressional debates on the financing of certain items for the supply, decisions were made in the future not to refill the masks but to concentrate on other necessary resources (Brown, 2020). Accordingly, the warnings in the 2019 Threat Assessment were rationally based on concerns such as limited resources to effectively combat a pandemic. However, the US decided not to refill the masks, which went against the recommendations of the Intelligence Community (IC) regarding preparing for a pandemic. The justification for choosing to allocate funds to other resources is not considered here as it would ultimately lead to a subjective interpretation of the evidence.
In November 2019, the NCMI prepared a report specifically on COVID-19, based on an “analysis of the cable and computer sections in connection with satellite images” (Margolin & Meek, 2020). However, this report was not identified as a priority. Had the US focused on such assessments, the country might have prepared earlier to counter the introduction of the virus into the country (e.g. through travel restrictions, introduction of quarantine to prevent the spread of cases already existing in the US, etc.) .). It also leads to an assessment of the failure related to the breakup of teams and directorates that are concerned with planning the most effective way to deal with a pandemic.
In 2018, the directorate of the National Security Council “in the White House, which is tasked with preparing when and not whether another pandemic would hit the nation” was dissolved (Riechmann, 2020). Similarly, in the period leading up to the coronavirus outbreak, staff were “cut by more than two-thirds at a major US health agency in China” (Taylor, 2020). While the teams disbanded prior to the outbreak, the resulting measures to form entirely new teams are viewed here as yet another failure. In January 2020, the White House Coronavirus Task Force was established to focus on the outbreak. By May 2020, however, plans were already being considered to phase out the task force and assign responsibilities to specific agencies (Restuccia & Bender, 2020). Had at least the original management been reinstated, those who had previously worked on the issues would have had a solid foundation from which to offer advice, strategies and solutions to the White House. The development of a new team and the rapid dissolution of this body resulted in arbitrary handling of problems, while the management had a clear history on which new investigations could have been carried out.
This translates into recognition of what could be considered serious in view of the dismissal of the National Security Council’s playbook on early response to emerging infectious disease and biological incident threats. This game book was written in 2016 to cover one such outbreak. Therefore, it is unclear whether the decision not to follow the playbook was the result of a “mistake or a deliberate decision to follow another course” (Diamond & Toosi, 2020). If the decision not to follow the gamebook were a calculated decision by the current government, then partisan policy seems to be the reason. The rift between the Obama and Trump administrations may have played a role in President Trump’s decision not to use the playbook developed under former President Barack Obama. This would be a grave administration failure and would also indicate how partisanship extends beyond the political arena and encroaches on the health and safety of the nation.
However, a health ministry representative noted that the “COVID-19 response has been influenced by recent plans such as the establishment of the National Biodefense Strategy (2018), the Biological Incidents Annex (2017) and panCAP (2018) plans, among others CDC, the White House Task Force, FEMA, and other key federal departments and agencies ”(Diamondand Toosi, 2020). It is postulated here that the unified message shared by the playbook may have been beneficial, especially at this time of turmoil when existing strategies were clearly inadequate as the death toll continued to rise.
Trends in the coronavirus outbreak response
The trend during the coronavirus outbreak appeared to be to ignore warnings from analysts, scientists and researchers. The unfortunate release of evidence has peaked in current statistics of approximately 216,025 deaths at the time of this writing (“Cases in the US,” 2020). The severity was also evidenced by the fact that even President Trump contracted the virus, despite all the security measures a president could take. Even the most basic strategies like travel restrictions were not imposed in a timely manner. As a result, thousands of people are reported to have flown “straight from Wuhan, the center of the coronavirus outbreak, as American health officials had only just started assessing the risks” (Eder, Fountain, Keller, Xiao, Stevenson, 2020). .
In fact, the decision to reopen most states and allow individuals to socialize outside of quarantine is another clear sign of the rejection of science and warnings. The death toll continues to rise and there are no real signs that the pandemic is coming to an end. In addition, the reopening “continued to raise concerns that increased activity would put Americans at greater risk for a recurrence of infections” (Iati, Berger, O’Grady, Sonmez, Kornfield, Pell, Buckner et al., 2020) . The country’s obvious choice to turn a blind eye to the warnings and turn a deaf ear will no doubt lead to more deaths and potentially an even bigger problem if the virus mutates over time.
By June 2020, many states had reopened, causing a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus cases (Aizenman, 2020). Across the country, reports show that there were an average of 800 deaths per day (Aizenman, 2020). In addition, researchers and even the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, have recently argued that public gatherings such as protests are a “perfect foundation” for the transmission of the virus (Madrigal & Meyer, 2020). It is therefore clear that the rejection of warnings and insufficient preparation and reaction have resulted in and will continue to lose many lives.
The layoff of science is exacerbated by the continuation of the notion that wearing a mask, social distancing, or even merely agreeing to the severity of the virus are political statements. Partisan politics has gotten entangled in the natural sciences, resulting in a devastating movement of people with certain political leanings who feel encouraged to ignore health warnings and scientific facts. Loyalty to a political party in the United States can now mean choosing freely when to listen to scientists who provide evidence of a situation. Additionally, the U.S. government’s partiality has led to ubiquitous political campaigns using the pandemic as campaign material. While addressing such a serious health problem can be used to show citizens how a leader can cope with difficult times, the scientific side of the situation should not be tampered with. The inherent subjectivity of politics should not be allowed to negatively affect the representation or perception of science and health in a nation.
Undoing or undermining years of advances in science by allowing the nature of politics to play a role will ultimately be the downfall of a nation. A country that is not only exposed to and unable to control a deadly virus, but also ignores the rational, evidence-based knowledge of the scientific community, inevitably becomes vulnerable and vulnerable to higher mortality rates, lower educational standards, and inferior economic growth and questionable political integrity.
In addition, the analysis of how the US responded to the natural coronavirus outbreak provides a useful clue as to how the country might have responded had the virus been brought to the US through bioterrorism. It is clear that despite numerous warnings from the IC, the country did not have sufficient resources, plans or protocols to deal with the virus. Therefore, trusting a CBRNE attack would have been the best way for a terrorist or criminal group to wreak havoc in the country. Although there was enough time to plan and prepare an appropriate strategy, the country gave up its sanity and failed to take the necessary steps to ensure that ultimately the country would not be in the position it is currently in.
With that in mind, it seemed lucky for the US that terrorists hadn’t come up with a plan to develop a virus, infect one of their own, and use it to spread the virus across the country. Had a terrorist group made the decision to launch such an attack, it would be unlikely that the country could have effectively managed the outbreak (unless the intelligence reports identified the terrorist and prevented them from entering the country). Hence, this outbreak is the real life lesson that should serve as an example of the destruction that can result from inadequate planning by government and security services.
Three important lessons can be learned from this analysis. Each of these relates to the way the US government should deal with the pandemic from now on. The lessons are as follows: 1) Reinstatement of directorates focused on preparing for pandemics; 2) Reshuffle of CDC centers abroad (especially in China); and 3) implementation of a holistic, multidisciplinary policy on resource and strategy readiness.
The trend in the coronavirus response can ultimately lead to a steady rise in deaths within the nation. Failure to deal adequately with the country may even result in other countries imposing stricter travel restrictions on US residents. For example, the Canadian government is reportedly “concerned that virus cells in states bordering Canada, particularly Washington, Michigan and New York, pose a threat to their citizens” (Shribman, 2020). As a result, the nation is considering extending the border closings to ensure Canadian people are not infected by US people. This would be a logical trend around the world if the US wasn’t able to manage the outbreak in a timely manner. This could lead to failed international business, trade and support from the international community.
Therefore, the country should initially focus on reinstating the management of the National Security Council and continuing the plan to dissolve the White House’s coronavirus task force. The task force was set up on an ad hoc basis to respond to the rapid rise in coronavirus cases in the country. While the Task Force may have provided assistance during this time, its work could be transferred back to Directorate. This allows people with a solid background on the topic to develop better strategies to move forward. Then the country should also work on staffing the CDC centers abroad, especially in China. While staff may need to be quarantined in order to work in the country, it would be helpful to have more detailed inside information from the country where the virus began. In addition, it would provide an opportunity to conduct more scientific research into how China worked to resolve the outbreak.
Finally, the country should take an objective view of the coronavirus, taking into account a variety of strategies with the consultation of experts from different fields (e.g. political science, medicine, sociology, etc.). This would involve referring to the National Security Council’s playbook, regardless of whether it was drawn up by another administration at a different point in time. The ability to consult with a wide variety of experts would allow the country to gain a broad, inclusive perspective that could lead to a more pragmatic way of reopening the country without risking the lives of more citizens. This would allow for a consultation with natural scientists and intelligence officials who could determine how the nation could have dealt with a biological attack that led to such an outbreak, similar to the coronavirus. The multidisciplinary effort would result in structured, predictive assessments that would benefit the country and the IC in considering how to counter a biological attack. This may then include changes to the congressional budget to ensure that supplies contain all relevant resources not only for natural outbreaks but also for human-made biological attacks.
Unfortunately, due to the direct economic impact, it may not be possible to re-establish lockdowns for many consecutive weeks. Still, imposing more severe penalties that hinder public interactions without masks or social distancing practices would be a prudent step forward. Proposals to wear masks in public or to stay about two meters away from others should be revised to meet federal legal requirements. It is not enough to give people the freedom to choose whether or not to join efforts to save the country.
Some people continue to refuse to wear masks despite knowing the possible consequences of spreading or contracting the disease. Therefore, at this point in time, for the common good, the government should enforce legal provisions that will enable these proposals to be implemented. While the constitution guarantees freedoms, it does not offer the freedom or the right to harm others (directly or indirectly). If a person without a mask is found to socialize in public, a fine should be imposed with a warning that further non-compliance could result in higher penalties. In this way, allowing scientists and doctors to lead the country out of this dire situation would put an end to partisan policies that negatively affect the health and safety of US citizens. The politicization of science must come to an end before the country has consequences that could not possibly be resolved without years of reconstruction.
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Further reading on E-International Relations