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Delays cost lives, let’s hope future actions save others

The Millerton News Editorial

Some disturbing news was first reported in the The New York Times on Wednesday, May 20, based on a study from Columbia University: If the U.S. had responded to the coronavirus pandemic just one week earlier, there’s a possibility that 36,000 lives could have been saved through early May. But because President Trump delayed putting social distancing measures into place in early March — waiting instead until March 15 — those many thousands of American lives were lost to the deadly virus. 

According to a report in The Washington Post, on March 8, only 500 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the U.S., making the respiratory disease seem like a far-distant worry from a distant land. But by the next Sunday, there were 2,000 confirmed cases in America, proving there was indeed cause for concern.

By March 15 the federal government had issued a warning against large public gatherings and was conducting health screenings at airports, and many governors and mayors had declared states of emergency. But again, the week’s hesitation came at a price of those 36,000 American lives — about 40% of the fatalities reported to date, according to the study.

Those who conducted the study examined what would have happened if social distancing was instituted a week earlier, instead of in mid-March, when much of the country began staying home. The study ran for a seven-week period, until May 3. 

“… had these same control measures been implemented just one to two weeks earlier, a substantial number of cases and deaths could have been averted,” states the study, which examined transmission and death rates among individual counties to see how the virus spread and killed COVID-positive patients. 

Even more shocking, the study charges that if the U.S. had instituted social distancing yet one week earlier still, on March 1, an estimated 54,000 American lives would have been spared. As of presstime on Tuesday morning, May 26, the nationwide death toll was reported at 99,846, whispers away from a staggering 100,000.

So, what’s the takeaway? Could President Trump have shown more leadership? Could his administration have been more proactive in protecting U.S. lives? 

Yes, Trump banned travel from Europe relatively swiftly, on March 13, a very wise move. But then he spoke days later about us “relaxing,” sending mixed messages to the American public. His health advisors urged this country to wear face masks, yet he has stubbornly refrained from setting the example and doing so in public (with one extremely brief, private, exception May 21 in Michigan). He battled with governors about reopening states, and then stepped back to let them take the lead and reopen in phases (while speaking in support of those protesting — some armed — at state houses to reopen more quickly), only to change positions yet again. It’s been like watching a tennis match. 

It’s hard to say if the president is completely at fault here. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. It would have been best if Trump acted immediately, no doubt. But he didn’t. To be fair, he did take action — eventually — but, as could have been predicted, he made it partisan, which always causes unnecessary delays and, in this case, cost many thousands of lives. That’s on him. 

But the Democrats aren’t without blame; they’ve been partisan, too. Their most recent $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill is trying to slip in some items completely unrelated to COVID-19 that have no business being included — including releasing dangerous criminals from prison; preventing the deportation of criminal illegal immigrants; and giving millions to fund arts and humanities. This is not the time to look at those important issues — this is the time to provide economic relief caused by the pandemic — period.

And speaking of Democrats, neither Governor Andrew Cuomo nor Mayor Bill de Blasio are completely faultless for failing to heed early warning signs of the virus, according to the report, which said they, also, dropped the ball. Like Trump, if those two leaders had ordered New Yorkers to social distance and self isolate one week earlier, the New York metro area alone would have been spared more than 17,000 deaths.

Cuomo acknowledged that “the facts keep changing” during this outbreak at his Thursday, May 21, press conference, making dealing with the virus difficult. That’s true, and no man is can predict the future — not Cuomo, not de Blasio, not even Trump. It’s what they do after events occur on which future generations will judge them.

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