A new report from Columbia University on COVID-19 deaths estimates that hundreds of thousands of Americans died because the United States’ response to the pandemic was an “abject failure,” particularly the actions of President Donald Trump. With an adequate response, the United States could have avoided tens of thousands of deaths and an incalculable amount of suffering, the researchers said.
Dr. Irwin Redlener, the lead author on the study and the founding director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, laid the blame at the feet of the White House in an interview with The Daily Beast: “We believe that this was a monumental, lethal screwup by an administration that didn’t want to deal with reality.”
In the report, titled “130,000–210,000 Avoidable COVID-19 Deaths—and Counting—in the U.S.”, researchers at Columbia’s NCDP studied “the staggering and disproportionate nature of COVID-19 fatalities in the United States.”
The researchers compared the coronavirus response of the U.S. to that of six other countries— South Korea, Japan, Australia, Germany, Canada, and France—and found that the American government’s response to the pandemic rated unfavorably against them all. The U.S. has suffered a COVID-19 fatality rate more than double that of Canada and 50 times that of Japan. Extrapolating from the deaths per 100,000 people in each country, the researchers estimated how the U.S. might have fared had it followed the example of a more robust response. The answer: always better than it did in reality.
“If the U.S. had followed Canadian policies and protocols, there might have only been 85,192 U.S. deaths—making more than 132,500 American deaths ‘avoidable.’ If the U.S. response had mirrored that of Germany, the U.S. may have only had 38,457 deaths—leaving 179,260 avoidable deaths,” the researchers wrote.
The researchers chose the half dozen countries that have achieved some level of success in responding to the pandemic.
“We should model ourselves on the best. We should be the best,” Redlener said. “We have the resources, the economy, the scientific expertise to do this the right way. We’re facing a lethal pandemic, and we had very misguided leadership that chose to berate the purveyors of masks and social distancing. The president himself became a superspreader. He has blood on his hands.”
Researchers cite several well-known but catastrophic factors that plagued the U.S. response: insufficient testing, delayed lockdowns, a lack of a unified federal response, and a failure to mandate non-medical interventions like masks and social distancing. American leaders, the researchers wrote, have shown a “failure to model best practices,” especially wearing masks during public appearances. Though research publications rarely venture into politics, both Scientific American and the New England Journal of Medicine have published editorials excoriating the Trump administration for its handling of the pandemic in the past month.
“There continues to be confusion, mismanagement, and dishonesty, and we’re reaping the consequences of misconduct in office. Usually academic publications are not so overtly political, but this incredibly anti-science administration has caused an enormous tragedy in America. The fact that these deaths could have been avoided is a stunning realization,” Redlener said.
More than 220,000 people in the United States have died of the coronavirus this year, and over 8.3 million have tested positive, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Public health experts estimate that millions more have contracted the virus but not received an official diagnosis because of a lack of adequate testing. The actual death toll from the virus also may be much higher than recorded.
Public health officials across the country are warning that the upcoming winter may be an especially brutal period as coronavirus infections rise to a third peak and flu season arrives. Adding to that gloomy forecast, the Columbia researchers wrote that the federal government’s “continued mismanagement” of the pandemic shows few indications of improvement: “The abject failures of U.S. government policies and crisis messaging persist.”
The end, according to Redlener, is nowhere in sight.
“Americans have a bad case of pandemic fatigue. We want to get back to some semblance of normalcy, but we never did what we had to do to achieve that state,” he said. “We’ve delayed the return of normalcy and fallen into this web of dishonesty and opposing science that was concocted by the president.”