The steep price of denial
When Europe reopens its borders to tourists on July 1, visitors from three backward, high-infection countries will reportedly not be welcome: Russia, Brazil, and the U.S. This is how far our country has fallen. We have by far the most coronavirus cases in the world, with 2.4 million confirmed infections and more than 120,000 deaths (a quarter of the global total), and may surpass 200,000 deaths by summer's end. Worst of all, a white flag of surrender has been raised in the White House and in many state capitols: If we can't beat this virus, let's pretend it's gone. So people began returning too soon to indoor restaurants, bars, and stores, without masks or distancing, and new hot spots of infection were ignited. Texas has record numbers of new cases and hospitalizations, and there are also alarming spikes in Florida, Arizona, South Carolina, and California. Many of the newly infected are people in their 20s and 30s, who are less likely to die. But they have parents, grandparents, teachers, and bosses. As Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told Politico: "Just because it starts with young people, doesn't mean it will stay with young people."
Remember Italy in March — the overwhelmed hospitals, the older patients left to die in hallways, the empty towns and cities? Last Saturday, when the U.S. reported nearly 32,000 new COVID-19 cases, Italy reported 264. Spain, France, and most of the rest of Europe also have the virus largely contained. In the U.S., confused citizens are getting conflicting and politicized messages from Washington, state capitals, and health officials. Many people have just thrown up their hands, unsure what's safe and what's not. Meanwhile, the virus is gaining traction in the South and West, making a terrible second wave in the fall much more likely. "I would rather spend this summer in Rome with my family than in Phoenix," Jha said. But for Americans, Rome is not an option. We are now global pariahs.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.