How the U.S. Messed Up Covid-19 So Badly

Harvard social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger breaks down excess deaths and workplace safety findings

Kate Green Tripp
Elemental
Published in
8 min readNov 20, 2020

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Customers wear face masks to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 as they line up to enter a Costco store on April 16, 2020 in Wheaton, Maryland. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

To call the state of coronavirus affairs in the United States grim feels like the understatement of the year. As the nation rounds the bend on Thanksgiving amid skyrocketing infection rates, we again find ourselves in a protracted moment of anxious chaos, which reliably erupts like clockwork in lieu of a coordinated response to an incredibly severe public health emergency.

The virus has America in its grip in part because we’re an easy target. We have not responded to its ferocity in an organized, national, mandatory, resourced way, as we would in wartime — and make no mistake, this is a kind of war.

Instead, we have reacted, often belatedly, in a variety of directions. U.S. border control measures designed to contain the coronavirus at the start were inconsistent at best. As the virus vacillates between erupting and quieting, we observe some states and cities enacting strict measures, others less so. We know that certain lifestyles—typically those of privilege—align more easily with social isolation, while others revolve around the daily grind of essential work outside the home. In plenty of domains, the slow, proven (admittedly boring but also caring, necessary, and potentially creative) prevention efforts rule the day. In others, slow and boring are discarded as inconvenient affronts to freedom. And all the while, the virus persists — bobbing and weaving its way through loopholes, discrepancies, and contradictions.

People are dying en masse — and more deaths are slated. That’s the ugly, dangerous truth. And yet there is reason for hope. New leadership will invite science back to the White House, emerging vaccine developments show real promise, and other countries are coming down off their peaks of infectious horror, reminding us that life in tandem with Covid-19 can, in fact, be responsibly lived.

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Kate Green Tripp
Elemental

Writer / Editor / Strategist. Comms Director, Stanford Impact Labs. I chase ideas & shape stories about science, society & innovation. Mostly, I belong outside.