It’s officially been one year since COVID-19 sent the United States, and the rest of the world, into a state of emergency. Stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and masks mandates are now familiar terms for most people. And while this pandemic has certainly caused unpredictable challenges for countries and leaders around the globe, the U.S.’s response to COVID-19 quickly turned into a nightmare.
The U.S.’s handling of the pandemic, or lack thereof, hasn’t only affected its citizens. Most respects for the U.S.’s ability to handle healthcare-related crises have all but evaporated as the COVID-19 death toll surpassed 500,000. What used to be considered a source of pride — U.S. healthcare — has now led to a damaged reputation across the country and internationally.
COVID-19 Costs Americans in More Ways Than One
Perhaps it isn’t quite fair to say that the U.S.’s healthcare is only just now failing. The fact of the matter is, the U.S. healthcare system has been flawed for a while now. It has continuously become more and more expensive to receive care in the U.S. A serious injury could cost someone their entire life savings — and more. This means that many of the U.S. citizens who have fallen ill, with the virus or something else, during the ongoing pandemic are now barrelling towards financial ruin. And while there are means for medical bill forgiveness, the fact that people can go bankrupt from medical expenses, even during a crisis, really illuminates a broken system at its core.
As those at the Common Wealth Fund tell us, “Responding effectively to COVID-19 requires that patients are able to access and afford health care services. About 30 million people are uninsured in the U.S., while another 44 million are underinsured because of high deductibles and out-of-pocket costs … Based on data from previous international surveys conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, we know that U.S. adults, including older adults, are generally more likely to forgo needed medical care — including doctor visits, tests, treatments, and medicines — than those in other countries.” The last thing many outside the U.S. expect to hear is people forgoing treatment or testing, but that’s exactly a decision many Americans are forced to make.
Additionally, numerous Americans continue disregarding COVID-19 safety guidelines, despite the medical and financial risks. This has put the country in a tough spot as those who can’t afford treatment are left at the mercy of others. And as we’ve seen, that is proving to be ineffectual and it’s costing people their lives.
U.S. Healthcare Leaves Too Many Americans Behind
In the U.S., people experience completely different realities person to person thanks to things like systemic racism as well as other long-standing health and social inequalities. This means that the pandemic has been even tougher for certain demographics. For example, Pacific Islanders, Latino, Black, and Indigenous Americans currently have a COVID-19 death rate double or more than their White and Asian peers — despite being part of the minority population in many cities. It also isn’t just racial and ethnic disparities leading to more deaths.
As previously mentioned, healthcare in the U.S. isn’t exactly affordable. A prime example is when the COVID-19 treatment Remdesivir was FDA approved, debate quickly raged over the cost of the treatment. At more than $3,100 for a course of treatment, it was far out of reach of people who were not already wealthy, which continued to demonstrate the unfairness running rampant in the healthcare industry. With all that being said, it’s no wonder the U.S. reputation continues plummeting. How can a country garnish respect when it turns it back on a portion of its own citizens? Moreover, how can a country, rooted deeply in racism and discrimination, ever hope to take care of its citizens without first addressing these issues?
Lack of Leadership
The saying goes that pressure makes diamonds. This was certainly not the case of the administration in charge during the first year of the pandemic. Beyond keeping the initial threat of COVID-19 concealed from the U.S. population, and then continuously downplaying it afterward, former President Trump showed indifference to the struggles Americans faced as the pandemic surged. Spikes in unemployment, slashed funding to safety nets like the Centers for Disease Control, and the refusal to help limit the spread of COVID-19 are a few failures that cost the country more than just its reputation. Of course, it wasn’t only the president that contributed to the current crisis the U.S. finds itself in.
Many local leaders, such as the governor of Florida, also refused to take necessary actions that could have potentially saved lives and ended the pandemic sooner. These leaders, including the president, are considered the U.S.’s elected officials chosen by the people to help lead the country towards success and growth. To have many of them choose money over public health and safety is a dark stain on America that will be hard to get out — but not impossible.
With a new administration stepping into place, and vaccines becoming more available, there is some hope for America. It’s difficult to predict what the coming year will bring, but we must continue learning from past mistakes and head towards a better and brighter future.