Isabelle Papadimitriou, 64, a respiratory therapist in Dallas, had been treating a surge of patients as the Texas economy reopened. She developed covid-19 symptoms June 27 and tested positive two days later. The disease was swift and brutal. She died the morning of the Fourth of July.
The holiday had always been her daughter’s favorite. Fiana Tulip loved the family cookouts, the fireworks, the feeling of America united. Now, she wonders whether she’ll ever be able to celebrate it again. In mourning, she’s furious.
Tulip, 40, had seen her country fail to control the novel coronavirus. She had seen Texas ease restrictions even as case counts and hospitalizations soared. She had seen fellow citizens refuse to wear masks or engage in social distancing.
“I feel like her death was a hundred percent preventable. I’m angry at the Trump administration. I’m angry with the state of our politics. I’m angry at the people who even now refuse to wear masks,” she said.
Six months after the coronavirus appeared in America, the nation has failed spectacularly to contain it. The country’s ineffective response has shocked observers around the planet.
Many countries have rigorously driven infection rates nearly to zero. In the United States, coronavirus transmission is out of control. The national response is fragmented, shot through with political rancor and culture-war divisiveness. Testing shortcomings that revealed themselves in March have become acute in July, with week-long waits for results leaving the country blind to real-time virus spread and rendering contact tracing nearly irrelevant.
The United States may be heading toward a new spasm of wrenching economic shutdowns or to another massive spike in preventable deaths from covid-19 — or both.
How the world’s richest country got into this dismal situation is a complicated tale that exposes the flaws and fissures in a nation long proud of its ability to meet cataclysmic challenges.
The success of the shutdowns meant that many Americans didn’t know anyone personally sickened by the virus. In places with low transmission, the crisis seemed far away.
“We just let our guard down,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said in an interview Friday. “Some people when they heard, ‘Hey, Ohio’s open,’ what they mentally processed is, ‘It’s safe. We can go out and do whatever we want to. It’s back to normal.’ ”
In the past two months, the virus has been smoldering in his state, the governor said, and “now we start to see some flames.” He fears Ohio could soon have the kind of runaway transmission afflicting Florida.
“Florida a month ago is where Ohio is today. If we don’t want to be Florida, we’ve got to change what we’re doing. Everybody’s got to mask up,” the governor said.
He and others cite human nature as a problem with containing the virus. Human brains simply aren’t wired to emphasize the importance of doing things, like wearing masks, that protect others but offer no immediate payoff, said Paul Slovic, a University of Oregon psychologist.
“You don’t get rewarded for putting on a mask,” Slovic said. “You don’t see who you’ve protected from harm, but you do feel an immediate discomfort.”
Protecting one life — or even one small puppy — generates a major emotional response that can prompt action, Slovic has found. But as the number of individuals involved increases — say, to the 137,000-plus deaths caused by the coronavirus — people grow inured to the loss, less prone to take action.
That makes public messaging especially essential, experts say. But the messaging in the United States has been all over the place. Even the scientists have struggled: They were wobbly on the effectiveness of masks before eventually embracing them.
Read the whole story: The Washington PostMore of our Members in the Media >