A pair of studies released this week show the full human cost of COVID-19 in America—and one of them pins the blame for a majority of COVID deaths on the Trump administration’s poor pandemic response.
The United States could have avoided at least 130,000 deaths and as many as 200,000 deaths “with earlier policy interventions and more robust federal coordination and leadership,” according to a new report from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.
The researchers found that, if the U.S. pandemic response had mirrored that of six other high-income nations—Japan, Australia, South Korea, France, Germany, and Canada—the U.S. could have seen as many as 162,240 deaths (with France’s response) and as few as 2,799 (South Korea).
At the time of the report, at least 217,717 Americans had died from COVID-19; the death toll in the U.S. now stands at more than 222,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The reason the U.S.’s pandemic response is failing is due to insufficient testing capacity, a delayed response to the pandemic, a lack of a coherent mask strategy or guidance, and “politicization, leadership vacuum, and the failure of top officials to model best practices,” the study said.
“Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has shown hostility to much of the critical guidance and recommendations put forth by its own health agencies,” the researchers wrote, “with the President at times misleading the public on the scope of the threat, attempting to ‘downplay’ the extent of the crisis, and advocating for unproven therapeutical or unsafe treatments.”
The CDC issued guidance in April—two months after the first acknowledged domestic cases of COVID-19—for people to begin wearing masks to help slow the spread of the disease. And after a very brief period where the administration encouraged lockdowns, Trump himself began calling for reopening the country, just weeks into the first wave of the pandemic.
All throughout the year, Trump has claimed that the U.S. pandemic response has been among the best in the world, despite clear evidence to the contrary. More recently, he’s began insisting that the United States is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic. In reality, there were more than 62,000 new cases yesterday, a 32% increase over the past few weeks, according to the New York Times, and the third wave of the coronavirus has swept through the Midwest and hit rural areas particularly hard throughout the past month.
The rate of U.S. deaths from COVID-19 per 100,000 people stands at more than 66 people, according to the Columbia study. France, the next-highest country on the list, has nearly 50 deaths for every 100,000 people. In South Korea, the rate is 0.85. Averaging the pandemic response efforts of the six countries, researchers estimate the U.S. death toll would have been between 38,000 and 85,000—anywhere between 1/6th and 2/5ths of the actual number of deaths.
A new study by a Harvard researcher shows the human consequences of those failures. The study estimates that there have been at least 194,000 premature deaths and 2.5 million years of life have been lost in the United States as a result of COVID-19. Nearly half of the potential years of life lost came from “non-elderly populations,” or people under the age of 65. (The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.)
“Think of everything that a person does in a year,” Dr. Stephen Elledge, the Harvard geneticist who ran the analysis, told the New York Times. “Who among us would not give anything to have one more year with a parent, a spouse, a son or daughter, a close friend?”