Nearly every country has struggled to contain the coronavirus and made mistakes along the way.
China committed the first major failure, silencing doctors who tried to raise alarms about the virus and allowing it to escape from Wuhan. Much of Europe went next, failing to avoid enormous outbreaks. Today, many countries — Japan, Canada, France, Australia and more — are coping with new increases in cases after reopening parts of society.
Yet even with all of these problems, one country stands alone, as the only affluent nation to have suffered a severe, sustained outbreak for more than four months: the United States.
Over the past month, about 1.9 million Americans have tested positive for the virus.
That’s more than five times as many as in all of Europe, Canada, Japan, South Korea and Australia, combined.
Even though some of these countries saw worrying new outbreaks over the past month, including 50,000 new cases in Spain …
… the outbreaks still pale in comparison to those in the United States. Florida, with a population less than half of Spain, has reported nearly 300,000 cases in the same period.
When it comes to the virus, the United States has come to resemble not the wealthy and powerful countries to which it is often compared but instead to far poorer countries, like Brazil, Peru and South Africa, or those with large migrant populations, like Bahrain and Oman.
As in several of those other countries, the toll of the virus in the United States has fallen disproportionately on poorer people and groups that have long suffered discrimination. Black and Latino residents of the United States have contracted the virus at roughly three times as high of a rate as white residents.
How did this happen? The New York Times set out to reconstruct the unique failure of the United States, through numerous interviews with scientists and public health experts around the world. The reporting points to two central themes.
First, the United States faced longstanding challenges in confronting a major pandemic. It is a large country at the nexus of the global economy, with a tradition of prioritizing individualism over government restrictions. That tradition is one reason the United States suffers from an unequal health care system that has long produced worse medical outcomes — including higher infant mortality and diabetes rates and lower life expectancy — than in most other rich countries. [Continue reading…]