U.S. confirmed COVID-19 cases surged to nearly 1.4 million with fatalities exceeding 80,000 in just slightly over 100 days since the country reported its first case on Jan. 21.
What went wrong with the handling of the pandemic by the world's richest and most powerful country that inarguably leads in medical and biological fields and boasts a well-equipped and accomplished public health system?
An "absolute chaotic disaster" was the harsh phrase former U.S. President Barack Obama used to slam the Trump administration's response to the crisis.
Massive failures of judgment, inaction, incompetence, erratic leadership, ignorance of science, political division ... are among a flurry of accusations from the U.S. public seeking to understand the federal and state governments' response to the coronavirus.
As of Thursday, with 4.2 percent of the world population, the United States has accounted for about 28 percent of pandemic deaths across the world.
Critics have attributed the crisis partly to the White House's failure to act in a timely way even as the alarm bells were ringing from late December onward.
On Dec. 31, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Chinese health officials had reported a cluster of cases of acute respiratory illness in China's central city of Wuhan.
The Chinese and U.S. CDCs talked over phone about the epidemic outbreak on Jan. 3 and since then the U.S. side has received information on the epidemic from China on a regular basis.
As early as January, the White House received advice from experts and the intelligence services about the need for urgent mitigation measures against the spread of the virus. However, the federal government was engaging in petty political feuds and pollyannaish predictions minimizing the significance of the outbreak, according to The Washington Post.
It was not until March 16, the White House reversed its previously dismissive stance and announced anti-epidemic guidelines.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, argued that, had the guidelines been implemented earlier, a crucial period in the exponential spread of the virus would have been mitigated and American lives saved.
"Leading epidemiologists have put a finer point on this, estimating that 50 to 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths in New York and approximately 90 percent of all American COVID-19 deaths can now be attributed to the administration's delay between March 2 and 16," Fauci was quoted by The Washington Post as saying.
Besides Washington's disregard of early warnings, experts also pointed out that the U.S. pandemic response was a work in progress-fragmented, chaotic, and plagued by contradictory messaging from political leaders.
The United States is "in a reactive mode," said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development who headed the U.S. Agency for International Development's disaster response efforts under former President Obama. "This is a virus that punishes delay ... We're still chasing the virus."
IGNORANCE OF SCIENCE
While battling the unknown virus, the White House, critics say, has dismissed the conclusions of scientists in formulating policy and the leadership has frequently put their political instincts and personal judgement ahead of facts and scientific common sense.
On Feb. 24, several days before the United States reported the first death from COVID-19, Trump tweeted that "the Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA." And that, according to a Foreign Affairs article, came after a CDC warning that the United States should prepare for widespread domestic transmission of COVID-19.
Later, the president's remarks on injecting disinfectants and using ultraviolet light to possibly kill the novel coronavirus, although said to be sarcastic, confused many citizens and stunned health experts.
The White House has constantly diminished the role of scientists in its decision-making, ignoring their suggestions about enhancing testing capacity.
It removed Nancy Messonnier, a top CDC official, from overseeing the agency's COVID-19 response in February, after he urged preparation for a "significant disruption." Later in April, Rick Bright, a leading U.S. vaccine scientist, was ousted for opposing the broad use of a drug frequently touted by the White House as a coronavirus treatment.
Bright has also pointed out that the Trump administration places politics and cronyism prior to science. In a written testimony scheduled to present on Thursday, the health official warns Congress of "unprecedented illness and fatalities" in the nation if it fails to develop "a national coordinated response," as its window of opportunity is closing.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are eager to reopen the economy to boost their re-election, despite the warning from experts of the coronavirus task force.
Fauci told a Senate hearing on Tuesday that the nation has not had the coronavirus outbreak under total control yet, as they are seeing "spikes" in the dynamics of the coronavirus outbreak. He also warned that states could face serious consequences if they open up prematurely.
The public also voiced complaints over Washington's attempts to block or downplay information about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in order to reopen the economy, partly driven by concerns over re-election in November.
Fauci said Tuesday that the U.S. mortality count, the highest in the world, is underestimated. "The number is likely higher. I don't know exactly what percent higher but almost certainly it's higher."
POOR NATIONWIDE COORDINATION
Instead of coordinating their efforts against the common enemy, the U.S. federal government and states have adopted their own ways against the spread of COVID-19. Some took stringent measures, while others shrugged off the need.
At the federal level, there is no effort "that has mustered anything like the funding, coordination, or real resources that experts across the political spectrum say is needed to safely reopen the country," said an article published by The Atlantic.
U.S. states have long been battling COVID-19 with little coordination at the federal level, and they also had to grapple with bipartisan rift fueled by the White House.
New York State, the epicenter of the country's pandemic, has been nagged by competitive bidding over medical equipment and protective gears, which made it more complex for the virus-striken state to save lives.
"You now literally will have a company call you up and say, 'Well, California just outbid you,'" Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier told a daily news briefing. "It's like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator."
Cuomo also blasted Trump's remarks last week that it's "not fair" for U.S. Congress to offer bailouts to Democrat-led states hard hit by the virus, adding that a bailout is different than "reimbursing for the plague."
"The impact of asymmetric partisan warfare can be felt across the American coronavirus response," noted a Vox.com report, saying the pandemic showed how "the idea of the nation has been supplanted by a 'partyocracy'," under which a government run for the benefit of the members of one party rather than the citizenship as a whole.
"Crises like this pandemic can be occasions for waking up and for closer understanding and cooperation; they can also, alas, be just more fodder for those deeply committed to non-cooperation and to the sowing of mischief in the pursuit of unquenchable self-interest," said Greg Cusack, a former member of the Iowa House of Representatives.
As of Thursday, more than 1.39 million people in the United States have been infected with the novel coronavirus, almost one-third of the total tally of over 4.3 million globally, according to Johns Hopkins University.