The danger of the coronavirus pandemic is plain. In Italy, which has a third of the world's COVID-19 deaths despite being repeatedly recognized for having one of the world's best health care systems, doctors in overwhelmed hospitals face deliberate decisions to let older patients die. At least 23 Italian doctors have succumbed themselves. More than 4,800 health care workers there are infected with coronavirus, more than 8% of the nation's total positive infections.
In the U.S., New York went from its first confirmed case on March 1 to more than 25,600 confirmed infections Tuesday, and public health officials fear being similarly overwhelmed within weeks, if not days. Federal officials are now warning anyone who has left the New York City area to self-quarantine for 14 days to limit nationwide spread.
Across America, some leaders are responding swiftly and sagely. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and California Gov. Gavin Newsom quickly ramped up state efforts, requiring social distancing and ordering many establishments to close. Newsom has also taken smart steps to protect more than 150,000 homeless people statewide who are especially susceptible to infection.
In Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump refuses to take basic steps using federal power to supply local and state governments with what they need for looming coronavirus demands. A Federal Emergency Management Agency official said Tuesday it would invoke the Defense Production Act to distribute 60,000 test kits, but that's not enough.
The Trump administration's dithering doesn't mean governors and others can't be decisive. Or aren't already being so. Tesla's Elon Musk procured 1,255 ventilators for Los Angeles and pledged to provide 250,000 masks. Apple's Tim Cook says he'll share 9 million masks nationwide. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg will donate and source millions more.
Meanwhile, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is suggesting a national shutdown of six to 10 weeks even though the self-isolation would be disastrous for the economy. That dire warning came as Trump said he wants businesses open by Easter, April 12, not for any scientific reason but because it's "beautiful."
The notion that Trump, on what sounds like a whim, would suggest reduced restrictions three weeks from now when scientists are arguing for greater precautions is an insult to health care workers putting their lives at risk to help fellow Americans. It's a disgrace to the grocery store workers stocking shelves and handing groceries to shoppers who, for all they know, may carry the disease.
The first order of business for all Americans should be staying healthy, staying safe and staying home unless it's crucial to go out -- and then only with 6 feet of separation from others, apart from the people in your home.
Unemployment is soaring. Companies are closing. People are dying because of the insidiousness of this invisible monster. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is living on cruise ship surfaces for 17 days, as proven by science.
If the federal government won't pull out all the stops to wipe this virus out, a coalition of states, companies, foundations and billionaires should coordinate to rescue America and ramp up production of ventilators, breathing machine valves, N95 masks, regular masks and hand sanitizers. With the exception of ventilators, these are not expensive goods.
There are promising signs. With FEMA's involvement, mass testing should begin shortly as millions of privately manufactured kits reach states. And Trump may soon find a way to wrap up negotiations on a bold congressional plan to limit the extent of financial pain facing households and businesses as the virus response squeezes the U.S. economy.
But Trump has rejected repeated calls for the United States to copy what seems to have found success in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Besides social distancing, business and school closures and mass testing, these nations have made sure key medical supplies are available -- in particular simple but effective face masks that cost 10 cents apiece. As a result, health officials no longer see the need to "flatten the curve" of future cases so doctors and hospitals don't face an impossible work load.
On Jan. 20, South Korea and the U.S. both reported their first confirmed coronavirus cases. South Korea's crisis has apparently crested because of its effective response. The U.S. remains in crisis, and Trump is showing impatience, not resolve.
The national response that's needed isn't going to come out of the Oval Office. America badly needs and can afford a better response to this pandemic -- with or without Donald Trump at the tip of the spear.
(c)2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune
Visit The San Diego Union-Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.