Why US is doomed to virus second wave


Once regarded as the greatest country on earth, the United States of America is now a shadow of its former self - it's economic system and social fabric ravaged by the coronavirus crisis.

A mishandling of the country's public health response to the pandemic, coupled with both an ill-equipped health service and the quick and fierce pushback against lockdown measures, have put America in an unenviable leading position.

It now has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 - more than 2.1 million - and the highest death toll - in excess of 116,000 people - of any other nation on the planet.

And if the superpower struggled to keep its head above water during the first wave, it's now almost inevitable that the second will completely swamp it.

In a sobering piece for The Atlantic, Yascha Mounk declared: "The virus will win."

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The simple reason for that dire assessment is the unwillingness for the majority of people to endure another round of shutdown measures.

Some barely coped with the first, angrily taking to the streets within weeks.

Heavily armed protesters stormed Michigan's state capitol building on April 30 demanding lockdowns be lifted and levelling threats at Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Demonstrators returned on May 14, once again armed, and a doll hanging from a noose was erected.

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In California, several hundred people gathered in San Diego on April 18 to demand the reopening of businesses and beaches.

In dozens of states, people gathered to demand their right to get a haircut or wave signs that read: "Give me liberty, or give me COVID-19."

As a result, Mounk wrote that "it is now difficult to imagine that anybody could muster the political will to impose a full-scale lockdown for a second time".

So, states are still pushing ahead with imminent plans to reopen, while many others already have.

How will America cope with its second wave? How will a tired, frustrated and deeply divided public be energised to fight it?

The signs aren't encouraging.

"What we're seeing from footage, especially from the states where we see these cases rising, is that states are not opening gently - they're opening with lots of crowds," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital, told CNN.

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Life is returning to normal in many US states as authorities reopen them for business. Picture: AP
Life is returning to normal in many US states as authorities reopen them for business. Picture: AP


For weeks now, social media has been filled with visions of people brawling in supermarkets over face masks - angry either with people wearing them, or not wearing them.

And that resistance in particular is cause for alarm.

"The evidence strongly suggests that airborne transmission happens easily and is likely a significant driver of this pandemic," immunologist Douglas Reed from the University of Pittsburgh wrote for The Conversation.

"It must be taken seriously as people begin to venture back out into the world. Thankfully, there is an easy, if not perfect way you can reduce airborne transmission: masks.

"Since people can spread the virus when they are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, universal mask wearing is a very effective, low-cost way to slow down the pandemic."

But there are stark signs that many Americans are unwilling to listen to advice that's seen as infringing on their freedoms.



For some, it seems they're simply following the example of the most powerful man in the land.

The dismissal of personal protections, such as wearing a mask, by President Donald Trump could erode any willingness by his supporters to don one.

RELATED: Americans abuse journalist and chant about fake news in latest anti-lockdown protest


President Donald Trump tours a factory that makes medical swabs but refused to wear a face mask. Picture: AP
President Donald Trump tours a factory that makes medical swabs but refused to wear a face mask. Picture: AP


His endorsement of an untested malaria drug as a potential cure for COVID-19 led to a surge in prescriptions, while off-the-cuff comments about people ingesting disinfectant saw a spate of poisoning incidents.

Inconsistent messages from the Trump Administration have added to the uncertainty and confusion.

Polling in the US state of Pennsylvania at the start of the crisis found 90 per cent of Republican voters trusted the information they heard about coronavirus from experts, but it's now slumped to one-third.



Dr Anthony Fauci, the face of the White House's response to the emergency and a key member of its coronavirus task force, now has bodyguards after a slew of credible threats to his life after he seemed to contradict Mr Trump's advice on various occasions.

Mr Trump's slow response to the pandemic is one of several contributing factors to the country's current position.

In February while meeting with a group of governors, Mr Trump was optimistic about what was ahead.

"I think it's going to work out fine. I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus."

For weeks, he labelled reports to the contrary as "fake news" or dismissed them as alarmist rhetoric and even a ploy by the Democrats to destabilise the stock market.

He continues to insist that America has the coronavirus under control, in the face of all available data and conventional wisdom.

And regardless of what happens during and after the second wave, Mr Trump has been clear: "We're not going to close the country".

RELATED: Trump hasn't spoken with Dr Fauci for two weeks


The toll from coronavirus has been significant for America. Picture: AP
The toll from coronavirus has been significant for America. Picture: AP


Coronavirus has cost the country dearly already.

The death toll from COVID-19 in the United States has now surpassed the number of American casualties from World War I - and the deadly spread of infection shows no signs of slowing.

New confirmed cases are surging across the country, but states in the south like Texas and Alabama are being particularly hard-hit.

So spectacular is America's failure to slow the pandemic that Harvard University's Global Health Institute expects another 100,000 people will die of coronavirus in the US by September.




Speculation about when the second wave will hit has now been replaced by a quiet conceding of the stark reality that it's already here.

Given it can take up to 14 days for people with COVID-19 to develop symptoms, all while remaining infectious, the ramifications of widespread Black Lives Matter protests and the reopening of much of the US is yet to be witnessed.

But already, a dozen states have reported a sharp rise in hospitalisations due to COVID-19, which Dr Fauci told CNN was "a sure-fire sign you're in a situation where you're going in the wrong direction".



One of the motivators for getting back to normal life is the disastrous state of the economy.

In the first quarter of the year, the American economy - the world's largest - experienced its sharpest slump since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.

But the worst is likely to come, given most of the toughest restrictions weren't implemented until March and the social, financial and health impacts have significant worsened since then.

The jobless rate is sitting at more than 13 per cent, with 25 million filing for unemployment benefits in the past four months.

Dozens of major corporations have filed for bankruptcy and countless others have significantly scaled back their operations.

That's undoubtedly why, despite the sharp spike in new cases and the troubling outlook for the weeks and months to come, it seems Americans are eager to get out and about.

Yesterday, as 21 states reported increases in their numbers of daily confirmed cases, Mr Trump again downplayed the urgency of the situation.

"If we stop testing right now, we'd have very few cases, if any," he told reporters yesterday.

RELATED: Some Americans are ingesting bleach to 'ward off' COVID-19




The response at a federal level has been largely hands-off, leaving it up to individual states to decide how they respond to the crisis.

Instead of a clear and united message, Americans have received the opposite.

There have been inconsistencies between states combined with Mr Trump's criticism of those who went hard on restrictions, confusion among the population and the continued free travel of people.

"In a country that has the mobility of the United States, you just can't leave it up to the states," Mark Dybul, a professor of global health at Georgetown University Medical Centre and the former head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, told Bloomberg.

"So we are not going to be ready for a second wave unless there's a federal response. And we can't reopen safely, or well."

Mr Trump will hold a Make America Great Again rally in Oklahoma this weekend in a 20,000-person venue, in a show of his personal confidence.

But at the same time, his campaign will make attendees sign COVID-19 waivers absolving it of any liability if they contract the virus.

What next for America the Great?

"With public opinion more polarised than it was a few months ago, and the presidential election looming, any attempt to deal with a resurgence of the virus is likely to be even more haphazard, contentious, and ineffective than it was the first time around," Mounk wrote.

Originally published as Why US is doomed to virus second wave