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ROBINSON: Coronavirus should lead to further political scrutiny


Column: The Mix

Ashley Robinson is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies. Her column, "The Mix," runs on alternate Wednesdays.
Ashley Robinson is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies. Her column, "The Mix," runs on alternate Wednesdays.

The first time I heard about coronavirus disease (COVID-19), it was in late January in a Twitter post. 

I would be foolish to think that the United States government did not know about the virus months before it appeared on my Twitter feed. COVID-19 cases are spreading at dangerous rates. Once one infected person enters an area, there can be hundreds of new cases in a matter of hours. 

The blame gets placed a lot on civilians for refusing social distancing and not practicing proper hygiene, but that ignores the main people who should be to blame. The failure to flatten the curve in the United States is due to President Donald J. Trump’s negligence and ignorance in handling pandemics. 

Imports of medical supplies such as testing swabs, gloves, gowns and N95 masks have not been delivered since mid-February. China is a large manufacturer of N95 masks, and with approximately 81,000 cases of COVID-19, it has used its supplies to aid its hospitals first. This has caused a threat to the United States because, although cases of COVID-19 are not declining, supplies for treatment are.

In a recent briefing over the shortage in COVID-19 medical supplies, Trump said, "I have to tell you, the throwing away of the masks, being in private business, the throwing away of the mask right away, they're throwing it away. We have very good liquids for doing this, sanitizing the masks, and that that's something they're starting to do more and more. They're sanitizing the masks."  

This suggestion shows how misinformed and ill-prepared Trump is for this pandemic. It is known that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has strict guidelines about not sharing or reusing masks. Trump’s failure to know this detail exemplifies how he is unfit for his position. 

South Korea had reached its peak of new COVID-19 cases on Feb. 29, according to The New York Times. Medical workers identified 909 new cases, but less than a week later the number of daily cases halved. This is the opposite of what we see going on in the United States. China and South Korea are the only two countries that have been able to flatten the curve. 

But, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in was able to flatten the curve without harsh restrictions on movement or lockdowns that were economically damaging. 

The four lessons Moon had to offer was:

  1. Intervene fast, before it is a crisis.
  2. Test early, often and safely.  
  3. Contact tracing, isolation and surveillance.
  4. Enlist the public’s help. 

During the immediate production of mass coronavirus medical kits, emergency action was brought to the city of Daegu in South Korea. The city is home to 2.5 million people where the contagion spread quickly through a local church. 

An epidemiologist advising the government’s coronavirus response named, Ki Mo-ran, said that “South Korea could deal with this without limiting the movement of people because we knew the main source of infection, the church congregation, pretty early on.” 

I believe this same technique could have been placed to major, populous cities in the United States. Many international travelers are flying into major airports in cities like New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago. To intervene fast, government officials could have better equipped their hot spot locations. New York City did not officially issue a lockdown until Sunday, even though the virus was named a pandemic on March 11. 

South Korea also acknowledges the fact that there would not be enough health workers to solve the issue on its own. Getting the public's contribution required leaders to be transparent about what was going on. Officials were able to use television broadcasts, subway station announcements and smartphone alerts to provide endless reminders to wear face masks, advice on social distancing and the day’s transmission data. The success of this tactic came from the public's trust in its officials. 

The vice minister of foreign affairs, Tae-ho Lee said, “This public trust has resulted in a very high level of civic awareness and voluntary cooperation that strengthens our collective effort.” This same trust is not seen in American citizens. Grocery shelves have remained bare for days despite Trump's request for people to stop buying in bulk. This sort of behavior is a survival tactic. Poor communication and negligence have enlisted more hysteria than trust in the American people. 

This pandemic comes just in time for the United States presidential elections. 

Hopefully this will make us better scrutinize who we are putting in office. We could have handled this situation so much better if we modeled the behavior and technique of leaders like the South Korean president. We have trusted our lives in the hands of clueless people it is our job to make sure it does not happen again. 

Ashley Robinson is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies. Her column, "The Mix," runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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