U.S.A. is Number One as COVID-19 deaths pass quarter million
Donald Trump always said that under his leadership the United States would be 'Number One.' For months, it has led the world in coronavirus cases and deaths. As it passes the 250,000 fatality mark, no other country even comes close to catching up. | Ross D. Franklin / AP

It’s probably not exactly what President Donald Trump meant when he borrowed the historic jingoistic slogan “America First” for his administration, but since early in the global COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. has consistently held the Number One spot in coronavirus cases and deaths. It took less than two months for these numbers to grow from 200,000 to a mind-boggling 250,000 now.

That is a quarter of a million people. That means one in every 1,280 American citizens and residents already dead. Imagine the entire population dead in such cities as Winston-Salem, N.C., Chesapeake, Va., Norfolk, Va., Fremont, Calif., Garland, Tex., Irving, Tex., Richmond, Va., Boise, Id., Spokane, Wash., Baton Rouge, La., Tacoma, Wash., Des Moines, Iowa, Birmingham, Ala., Rochester, N.Y., Grand Rapids, Mich. Each of those cities has a population under 250,000.

Healthcare professionals predict a coming surge in infections and deaths over the long, dark winter, when people are not outside so much, and when the urge to gather with family and friends increases over the holidays. Plus which, we know that the virus survives longer in colder weather.

In all likelihood, it will take considerably less than two months to reach the next milestone—300,000—needlessly, tragically dead, owing to the federal government’s administrative failure. “It is what it is,” the president has callously said. “I take no responsibility.”

In the early months of the outbreak, Trump tried to glorify himself by saying he was a “wartime president,” but he never mustered the full force of the government to beat the virus with proven medical and scientific protocols. He has essentially been AWOL from the start.

At the GOP Convention in August, speaker after speaker virtually ignored the pandemic, or referred to it in the past tense as if our fearless leader had already beaten the monster back. Ever since, as the electoral campaign kicked into high gear, he has ghosted America on the pandemic, not wishing to remind voters of his being effectively MIA for almost a year.

In this July 21, 2020, photo, Samuel Nunez cries as he eulogizes his daughter Lydia Nunez, who died from COVID-19, during a funeral service at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Los Angeles. 250,000 families in the United States have had to go through the same agonizing goodbye. | Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

By the end of October, the Trump administration essentially surrendered to COVID-19. Trump got his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to declare, “We’re not going to control the virus.” (Right after the Nov. 3 election, Meadows himself tested positive; the virus cannot even be controlled in the White House.) And Trump appointed Scott Atlas, an advocate of “herd immunity,” to head up whatever was left of his attention span on the virus. Tens and tens of millions more will have to be infected and die before anything resembling “herd immunity” comes about. No responsible scientist endorses this theory.

Maybe in the end that’s what Trump’s mystical reference to “covfefe” meant when he used it in a tweet May 31, 2017, that instantly piqued the curiosity of a nation. Some 30 months before the coronavirus ever appeared, Trump tweeted, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” Could his fingers somehow have channeled an abbreviation for COVid FEderal FailurE? Only a Ouija board, or Nostradamus if he were around, would be able to confirm that speculation.

Headlines and subheads from Los Angeles Times on a single day last week (Nov. 13), seemed to encompass just about all the dimensions of the evolving crisis:

“It all started with one sick woman in San Jose (10 months after that first death, California passes 1-million mark in COVID-10 cases.)”

“A new take on federal COVID policy (Trump’s plan was to downplay the risk to lift the economy. Biden bets on the opposite.)”

“At small lab, the hunt is on for a vaccine (Scientists in Brooklyn alter coronavirus to beat it—an underdog team in a global race.)”

“As Trump sulks, pandemic rages (Hurt by loss, president focuses on his future while socially distant in the White House.”

And finally, “Georgia to shape Biden presidency (Two runoffs decide control of the Senate, where his ambitions could succeed or fail.)”

The United States’ daily average for new cases currently stands at more than 158,000 this week—more cases every day than reported in toto in China since the beginning of the pandemic at the end of 2019. Last week, on Nov. 13, a new record was broken: 177,246 people testing positive that single day, a record doubtlessly soon to be surpassed. The nation has some 11.4 million diagnosed cases now, and growing, approximately one out of every 32 people. The transmission rate remains far above 1:1—under which, if it stays that way, the disease will eventually disappear. Divide 250,000 deaths into 11.4 million cases, and that’s one death for every 45 cases.

Workers bury bodies in a trench on Hart Island, April 9, 2020, in the Bronx borough of New York. In the spring, the COVID-19 casualties were piling up faster than funeral homes and families could claim them. | John Minchillo / AP

It did not have to be. The world has seen how enlightened countries such countries as China, New Zealand, Iceland, South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Cuba, and a few others competently deployed advanced preparedness, early warning, and science-based rapid response to curtail the disease.

Rugged individualism on the one hand, with its emphasis on personal “rights” as opposed to communal responsibility, and authoritarian, often religiously inspired politics on the other hand seem to be common factors in high-density infected nations.

“We may be turning a corner, but not in a good way,” states Julie Swann, a healthcare expert at North Carolina State University. With the growing caseload, the U.S. now has over 77,000 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, more than ever before. We could be looking at another 500,000 deaths, or even a million, before the end of February, according to some projections by respected experts.

From whence cometh our help?

Of all the jobs lost during the pandemic, upward of a conservative 22 million and maybe as high as 50 million, at most half have returned. Some jobs will never return: Business has realized it can live without them; workers can operate from home (meaning fewer support businesses in and around workplaces, such as restaurants and retail shops); employers have gone bankrupt; or some human functions can be replaced by robots and internet transactions.

With the Senate in Mitch McConnell’s clutches, virtually no pandemic relief has passed since the first CARES Act. The HEROES Act passed by the Democratic House months ago lies like a corpse on the Senate Majority Leader’s desk. Any further pandemic aid is likely not forthcoming until the Biden administration takes over on Jan. 20. Biden has already named a 13-member coronavirus task force, composed of people with experience and gravitas, physicians and specialists, whose counsel Biden has committed to follow—a 180-degree turn away from the charlatans and liars “I Alone” Trump appointed to burnish his own ego.

But even Biden’s plan, and passage of the full-strength HEROES Act, will still largely depend on Senate cooperation. And this is where the last of the L.A. Times headlines cited above comes into play. Biden can only get so far without the wholehearted support of both houses of Congress.

The GOP’s feeble, literally murderous response to the COVID-19 crisis does not deserve to be rewarded in the forthcoming senatorial elections in Georgia that will settle the composition of the 2020-2022 Senate. Those two Senate races will determine whether or not Democrats have the votes to pass the HEROES Act and further measures to help the American people not only get through this period in the short run, but to proactively curtail further infectivity and restore the nation’s health.

The two Republican senators up for election and reelection, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, have demonstrated their undying fealty to the failed Donald Trump, blocking any further advance in conquering the virus. Both of them, in fact, as senators, were briefed early on, as Trump himself was, as to the gravity of the novel coronavirus. And how did they respond? By taking that insider information not disclosed to the American people and selling off stocks in companies such as airlines and hotels that they knew would be negatively impacted, and buying up shares in medical supply manufacturing. They not only denied the seriousness of the pandemic, but personally profited from it, along with many of their fellow billionaires, whose wealth share has increased over the last 10 months.

People wear face masks as they wait for an ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) Relief Resource Center and Food Pantry to open during the COVID-19 pandemic in Chicago. Community charities like this one are all many people have to rely on, as the Republican-controlled Senate refuses to pass further economic rescue packages. | Nam Y. Huh / AP

The new administration merits all the confidence and help Americans can give—not ever blindly, of course, but with a “can-do” attitude and commitment. Part of that commitment is to ensure that the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff win those two respective Senate races and, if the expression can be used in a non-ironical sense, “drain the swamp.” This is the single largest political mandate of the present moment. Everyone wishing the Biden-Harris team well needs to contribute their effort and financial support to these two critical campaigns. Thanks to the extraordinary work of Stacey Abrams and the powerful Black vote in the state, Georgia has shown the way as a Deep South state that made the break with its past and committed its future to Biden and Harris. Now the Senate races can seal this commitment, but the campaigns will need nationwide backing.

In other ways, Trump and his supine GOP are hampering progress on combating the disease. Not yet having conceded the election, he has ordered government departments not to cooperate with the Biden transition team—unlike the unrestricted cooperation he received in the peaceful transition from the Obama administration. If he keeps this up until the last hour, President Biden will start off without all the updates, reports, contacts, and briefings any incoming president needs to put new policy in place, including on healthcare and the virus at the top of his agenda. This behavior cannot be overlooked or applauded. It is vengeful, destructive, and profoundly un-American. Trump’s supporters, Loeffler and Perdue, need to be punished.

Taking care

In the meantime, in this unsettled time before a vaccine is widely available, we do know what the transmission routes of the coronavirus are: the three C’s, according to William Hanage, epidemiologist at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, “close contact, closed spaces, and crowds.”

Hanage and every other public health officer are telling us over and over again what to do: Mask up in public, physically distance yourself, wash your hands, sanitize, and don’t take foolish chances. The death toll is guaranteed to drop precipitously the more people observe these protocols. The life you save may be your coworker, your neighbor, your friend ,or relative—or your own.

President-elect Biden has said it, but you don’t have to be a Democrat to agree with him: Wearing a mask protects yourself and everyone you have contact with. It is a patriotic and humanitarian duty, regardless of race, creed, or political party.

Eventually the world will overcome COVID-19, but at an unfathomable cost which will trickle down for at least a generation or more in the hardest-hit places. But how well will we be prepared for the next novel coronavirus and the one after that? Will we have learned anything from this one?

People’s World, along with all sober and caring forces, both public and private, extends its deepest and most heartfelt condolences to all those suffering the losses of their loved ones. May these people, cruelly felled by what has been demonstrated to be a truly containable disease, always be remembered with dignity and affection. And may the actions we take now and going forward help to limit the greater holocaust to come should humanity fail to regain its sanity, wisdom, and lovingkindness.


Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon, People’s World Cultural Editor, wrote a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein and co-authored composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography. He has received numerous awards for his People's World writing from the International Labor Communications Association. He has translated all nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese, available from International Publishers NY.