The United States crossed the grim milestone of 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Monday, a year since announcing its first known death from the virus on February 29, 2020 in the Seattle area.
Why does the world’s leading power have the highest death toll and what lessons are American health specialists learning from the past year?
Here, infectious disease experts Joseph Masci and Michele Halpern provide answers to some of the key questions.
Masci, 70, is one of the leaders of Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, which was at the heart of New York’s epidemic.
Halpern is a specialist at the Montefiore hospital group in New Rochelle, a New York suburb where the epidemic arrived in force in February 2020.
– Why has the United States been hit so hard? –
Prior to this pandemic, the United States observed coronaviruses “from a distance,” explained Masci.
“There was SARS in Canada but very little or none in this country. There was no MERS here at all,” he said.
“There was a lot of preparation made for Ebola coming to the United States, and it never really did.
“Suddenly this (coronavirus) was a problem where the United States was the epicenter.”
Masci said it was difficult to compare the United States with other countries.
“I think smaller countries that had structured health care services had a good chance of bringing things into play quickly.
“In a country like ours, with 50 independent states, and a huge landmass, with largely a private hospital system, it is always going to be difficult to get everybody on board with one particular set of strategies,” he explained.
Masci added that Donald Trump’s administration had a “haphazard approach”, which did not help.
“The fact that hospitals were competing with each other to get personal protective equipment didn’t make sense. They had to centralize all of that very quickly and they didn’t.
“It was a struggle to try to deal with those obstacles that were put up,” he said.
Masci and Halpern rue that mask-wearing was politicized.
“It’s purely a health care issue,” said Masci, adding that it is going to be difficult for the federal government to “reframe” that message.
Halpern insists that people should not see mask-wearing as “infringing” on their freedom