In February 2020, the United States was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Foreign traffic was largely closed. The federal and state governments imposed lockdowns. The economy collapsed in March. The GDP fell a record 35 percent in the second quarter. By April unemployment had spiked from 4 percent to 14.7 percent, resulting in 20 million layoffs. An instant worldwide depression ensued. By mid-June 2021, 600,000 Americans had died, and 4 million people died worldwide.
When COVID-19 hit, there were no diagnostics, no therapeutics, no vaccines and very little personal protection equipment (PPE). The country and the world were in a state of shock. Aided by a massive $2 trillion of extra spending and a $3 trillion overall budget deficit, equaling 12 percent of the GDP, the U.S. government forged an instant public-private partnership. Aided by its internal resources, the healthcare industry rose to the challenge and attacked a virus unknown to the industry until January 2020:
1. Hospitals deferred elective surgeries and focused on the sudden flood of COVID patients. Non-COVID patient volume collapsed. PPE was in short supply, but the dedicated physicians and nurses worked overtime and did all they could to save patients. Hospital operating losses mounted, but hospitals generally did not cut back on employees. They hoped that the challenges would not take long to overcome.
2. The major insurance companies and Medicare loaned money to desperate hospitals in an unprecedented manner. Private and federal insurers facilitated payments to telemedicine companies to pay for virtual visits.
3. The PPE manufacturers extensively scaled up the production of masks, sanitizers and gloves. The ventilator companies substantially ramped up production and even shared patents to expand collective production.
4. The diagnostic companies developed new antigen and antibody tests, improved their accuracy and shortened the time to the results. A variety of blood tests and nasal swab tests proliferated, as leading laboratory companies expanded their capacity.
5. The pharmaceutical industry ramped up the development of high-tech, antibody-based therapeutics to treat the disease.
6. Vaccine manufacturers raced to develop solutions in unprecedented time frames, spearheaded and subsidized by former President Donald Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed,” which defied conventional wisdom but cut three to five years off the vaccine development timeline.
Within 10 months, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were on the market. By December 2021, they will have each sold nearly 1 billion doses, and are forecasting the sale of three billion doses in 2022. Other manufacturers entered the market as well, led by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
As heroic Civil War nurse Clara Barton reminded us: “It irritates me to be told how things have always been done. I defy the tyranny of precedent. I cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind.”
Eighteen months after the COVID pandemic breakout, 50 percent of American adults have been vaccinated, and COVID incidence and death rates have plummeted. The United States is rapidly recovering its economic health. After declining 5 percent in 2020, the GDP should rise 5 percent to 6 percent in 2021. Mask mandates are ending throughout the country
7. Yet instead of focusing the lockdowns on the vulnerable population over 65, several states, particularly New York, Illinois, Michigan and California, maintained economically and psychologically destructive lockdowns for too long.
8. Moreover, several governors greatly mismanaged the situation, sending COVID patients into under-equipped nursing homes, leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths, particularly in northern states like New York, New Jersey and Michigan.
9. Political considerations led to the denial of potentially life-saving drugs for millions of patients, with repurposed drugs like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin forbidden by the federal and state governments. The American Medical Association (AMA) and major medical journals such as The Lancet did not stand up for the rights and obligation of physicians to provide all available medicines to protect life. Even simple prophylactic solutions such as zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C were not widely discussed or recommended.
10. The same political considerations prevented and even banned public discussion and information on the pandemic in most legacy and social media outlets, in clear violation of the First Amendment. For example:
Did the virus come from the Wuhan Institute of Virology?
Was the Institute working on gain-of-function research?
Was the United States funding some of the research?
Did the virus escape the lab?
Did China take advantage of the accident to launch a biological warfare attack on the United States and the world?
Should the United States and the rest of the world seek compensation from the Chinese Communist Party for their irresponsible, accidental or purposeful nefarious actions?
All in all, the United States is fortunate to have most of the best healthcare companies in the world. Also, fortunately, they have coordinated their activities with other advanced healthcare companies in the world. They stepped up to the challenge of a lifetime. They each addressed the problems that suited their expertise and resources. They were aided by an equally aggressive federal government and energized FDA.
Alas, they were sometimes impeded locally by a few incompetent governors and mayors. For their failures during the pandemic, New York State and New York City will be remembered as a poster children for incompetence and corruption.
The pharmaceutical companies and the Trump administration were often criticized by the politically motivated and corrupt mainstream media and social media. But their employees worked tirelessly and their managers made bold decisions.
The United States is wounded, but it has weathered the Wuhan virus well. We have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be proud of.
Ken Abramowitz is the president and founder of SaveTheWest.