USA Inaction Amplifies Coronavirus Disaster

USA’s response has been even slower and less effective than Italy’s

Figure 1. This graph illustrates how quickly and effectively — or not — each of four countries responded to its COVID-19 outbreak. For each country — USA, Italy, China and South Korea — it plots the average number of confirmed new cases on a timeline of days after that country surpassed 100 confirmed cases. A 5-day sliding average is used. The data shows that the USA’s response to the outbreak has been much slower and less effective than even Italy’s. In contrast, South Korea’s rapid response quickly brought their outbreak under control — the dotted line for South Korea is so low it is barely even visible on the graph. Data sources: Johns-Hopkins University and Our World in Data. View in Google spreadsheet.

Even Italy responded faster and more effectively than the USA has, to slow the explosive growth of its coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The USA’s failure to take rapid effective action against this exponentially growing outbreak is hurtling the nation toward disaster — a disaster far larger than it needed to be.

Figure 1 compares the effectiveness of four countries — USA, Italy, China and South Korea — in responding to its COVID-19 outbreak. For each country, it plots the average count of confirmed new cases on a timeline that begins on the day when that country surpassed a threshold of 100 confirmed cases — the “start” of its outbreak, for comparison purposes. The relative speed and effectiveness of each country’s efforts to combat the outbreak can be seen by observing the average count of new cases since the start of its outbreak.

By day 18 of its outbreak, the USA had surpassed all three countries in its average new case load, even though its average was lower than the others for the first 12 days. As of this writing (day 22) the USA’s average new case load continued to soar unchecked, while Italy and China had made substantial progress in reducing theirs. In stark contrast, South Korea’s rapid response to its outbreak was very effective. By day 13 its average new case load was already declining, and by day 25 it was below 100.

The above graph makes no estimates or modeling assumptions whatsoever. And it uses only official, confirmed case counts. You can easily examine the spreadsheet yourself.

This failure, by the richest, most powerful nation in the world, to take rapid effective action against an exponentially growing disease outbreak is inexcusable. Instead of learning from the COVID-19 successes and failures in other countries such as China, South Korea and Italy, and heeding the urgent calls of the WHO and many other epidemiology experts, the US administration wasted precious weeks downplaying the threat. The result is an imminent national disaster, on a scale much larger than it needed to be.

There is a legal term for this failure to act: criminal negligence.

However, the battle is not over, and the outcome depends on our ability to take massive, bold, effective action — now. In the absence of effective federal leadership, we need one courageous state governor to step forward and lead the charge, to stop the uncontrolled spread of this disease and reduce the magnitude of this disaster. See Stopping COVID-19: Who will fill the leadership void?

3/29/2020: Minor editorial changes.
4/10/2020: Changed Italy body transport photo to Delay=Death image.

By David Booth, PhD

David Booth is a computer scientist and software architect working on healthcare and biomedical data, with a focus on improving data interoperability.

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