Washington should right wrongs while they can

By Ai Jun

No Country for Old Men was the biggest Oscar winner in 2008. Its directors might have never anticipated that 12 years later, the film’s name would become the reality of American society in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the number of US coronavirus-linked deaths at long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, has topped 10,000. The staggering figure almost equals the combined COVID-19 death toll in Germany and the Netherlands. Worse, some states in the US still haven’t reported relevant data.
While people grieve over the misfortune, a thought-provoking question is raised: Why has the US, the most developed country with the highest level of medical, healthcare and nursing system in the world, failed to prevent the devastating fatalities among the elderly?
Insufficient testing is a major reason. A US netizen wrote on Twitter Thursday, “My Dad just passed away from COVID-19. Only after showing symptoms of the flu, they did a chest X-ray for pneumonia and then he was tested for COVID-19. They were not routinely doing tests on all.”
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker pledged on Monday to ramp up testing at all long-term care facilities. But do the math: How long has it been since the first known death from the coronavirus was reported in the US in February, and how long has it been since the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic in early March? It took too long for the US to take testing at care homes seriously.
China has been adopting strict quarantine measures since January. Obviously, the US paid no attention to it. In February, when respiratory problems emerged among residents of the Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington, a party went ahead anyway. Social distancing was apparently not in the center’s playbook. Soon after, dozens of elderly people there died of the coronavirus.
The way the US treats elder patients is heartbreaking. Take New York State, which requires nursing homes to readmit residents who have tested positive for the virus. To put it more bluntly, this is a policy which asks elderly COVID-19 patients to be sent back to nursing homes, or, in other words, sent to the frontline of a herd immunity experiment.
Since the outbreak was first reported in China, there have been few reports of cluster cases at Chinese nursing homes. China does have relatively fewer care facilities for elder people compared to the US. But China has not lowered its guard on epidemic prevention and control in those centers.
Take the community welfare house in Wuchang district, Wuhan. It established a epidemic prevention and control working mechanism right after the outbreak, cancelled all its staff members’ vacations and asked them to remain in their positions 24 hours a day. No one was allowed to go outside. Body temperatures of the elderly were measured twice a day. Other nursing centers nationwide have taken similar measures.
China has taken the health and lives of elder people seriously with specific treatments for them. China’s National Health Commission said among more than 2,500 diagnosed patients in Wuhan of over 80 years old, 70 percent of them have been cured.
As the US judges China’s efforts in tackling the virus, they turn a blind eye to China’s experience, which proved to be efficient. On the day when news that US COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes topped 10,000 was released, politicians were busy condemning and shaming China, seeking to find out if the World Health Organization was being run properly, and fired Rick Bright, one of leading US vaccine development experts, for allegedly questioning hydroxychloroquine, a drug touted by the US president.
On March 30, President Donald Trump said “We will have a great victory” in the fight against the pandemic. But one can hardly declare any victory after losing over 46,700 Americans, with nearly a quarter of them being the elderly.
The difference in the political systems of the US and China determined how they addressed the outbreak. Due to their cultures and traditions, people from both sides also have different views on their epidemic prevention measures. But this should not be an obstacle for the two sides to learn from each other.
The high fatality rate among the elderly in the US mirrored the severity of problems of epidemic prevention. If the country fails to resolve them, people will eventually question its system: Why is this tragedy happening in a country with the highest-level medical system?
–The Daily Mail-Global Times news exchange item