More than one million Americans have died of complications of Covid-19. Can you wrap your arms around that number? Does it seem possible? Everyone I know has been touched by Covid one way or another. I lost my mother-in-law. And it didn’t have to be this way.
American is in many ways like Australia. As reported by the New York Times (the link is probably behind the Times’ paywall, but it is excellent and worthy of credit), both countries are English-speaking democracies with similar demographic profiles. In Australia and in the United States, the median age is thirty-eight. Roughly 86 percent of Australians live in urban areas, compared with 83 percent of Americans. Yet Australia’s Covid death rate sits at one-tenth of America’s, putting the nation of twenty-five million people (with around 7,500 deaths) near the top of global rankings in the protection of life.
The difference is in the stupidity factor. As in America is stupid and Australia is not. Americans have shown they lack trust in science and institutions, but especially in one another. When the pandemic began, 76 percent of Australians said they trusted the health care system (compared with around 34 percent of Americans), and 93 percent of Australians reported being able to get support in times of crisis from people living outside their household.
One day after learning about the new virus reported in China, Australia’s chief medical office began acting. Border, isolation, surveillance, and case tracing mechanisms were put in place. A few days later Australia reported its first Covid case. Less than 24 hours later, on Feb. 1, 2020, Australia closed its border with China, its largest trading partner. On Feb. 3, 241 Australians were evacuated from China and placed in government quarantine for 14 days.
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first human transmission of the virus in the United States, President Donald J. Trump downplayed the risk. “We think it’s going to have a very good ending for us,” he said.
The Australian response to Covid was not perfect. But the contrast with America is shocking. At a time when the Australians began handing out started N95 masks, which are more protective, to workers exposed to Covid patients supplied came from federal and state stockpiles, with guidelines for how distribution should be prioritized, in America hospital executives were lining up third-party vendors for clandestine meetings in distant parking lots.
Australians lined up to get tested, wore masks without question, turned their phones into virus trackers with check-in apps, set up food services for the old, infirm, or poor in lockdowns, or offered a place to stay to women who had been trapped in their homes with abusive husbands.
The Trump-Republicans from the Oval Office on down the ranks disputed the science, made fun of those who took seriously the need to wear masks, isolate, and avoid close contact, demonstrating contempt for those who did. Their syncopates on Fox and other cable news fell right into line disparaging the depth of the crisis. The federal government refused to get involved with the setting of nationwide standards or the procurement of personal protective gear. About the only thing Trump supported that was of any value was the decision to fund the development of multiple vaccines. Perhaps he was out on the golf course the day that one was put into place. Then once the vaccines were ready, the states had to create their own programs to administer the medication.
And if the number of fatalities due to Covid in the United States had tracked the number in Australia? That would be 100,000 souls lost. A terrible number. But far lower than the one million and rising number of deaths of Americans. Americans who were either stupid themselves or were the innocent victims of others who were stupid and did not care what havoc they caused. I count my mother-in-law among the innocents. She was a victim of a state government which failed to put into place any meaningful controls on its healthcare facilities. A state where the court system failed to protect its seniors and guarantee their basic rights. She died before her time in Florida.