8 Apr 2020

Covid-19: The shocking state of care, caution in Trump's US

From Checkpoint, 5:50 pm on 8 April 2020

Covid-19 hospitalisations seem to be levelling off in New York - the epicentre of the pandemic in the US. 

Centre for Disease Control figures show the United States has more than 370,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 12,000 deaths.

More than a third of infections and half of fatalities from Covid-19 in the US are in New York, with 7,321 people dying in one 24-hour period.

On Wednesday President Trump blamed the World Health Organisation for getting "every aspect" of the pandemic wrong and threatened to withhold funding from the organisation before seemingly backtracking.

"It is dire… It's a very bleak picture," BBC North America editor Jon Sopel told Checkpoint

"We got access to some film material inside an ICU intensive care unit in Brooklyn, in the financial capital of the richest country in the world. The nurses in there were wearing bin liners as personal protective equipment. I kid you not.

"It was absolutely shocking. This was an intensive care unit where everything seemed to be on the edge of falling apart." 

Deaths are high, but the key indicators to look at are the number of new hospital admissions, the number of new diagnoses of cases, "and it does seem to be that New York now is at the peak of it," Sopel said. 

The people dying now are likely those who have been on ventilators for some time already and were admitted to hospital a long time ago, he said, so the more accurate figure to look at is the number of admissions. 

"That is the more realistic figure to look at, because the death total is a lagging indicator, and the deaths will keep on going up. Even when you're at the peak of the curve and you're coming down the other side."

There have been allegations that the US government has obtained masses of personal protective equipment, but it is being distributed to private companies in the US. 

"The US is a federal system, there are 50 states, and they are competing against each other to get hold of vital masks, gowns… the whole panoply of the kit that people need. And these 50 states are driving up the price against each other.

"This is because broadly in America during normal times you don't have a health service. You have a health sector, just like you have an aerospace sector or telco sector… So you have states now in a position where they are fighting each other to get hold of equipment, and it is a real structural fault."

President Trump has said he does not want to get involved in the competition between states. 

Most states across the US are under some form of lockdown, but about six are not, Sopel told Checkpoint

Over Easter weekend in some states there will be huge crowds going to churches, he said. 

"That has to be crazy when the one weapon you have got at the moment against coronavirus in the absence of a vaccine is social distancing."

Meanwhile President Trump wants to reopen the country and the economy as soon as possible, which might be possible for main cities like New York once they have seen the worst of it, but if other states are not locking down an may soon see a Covid-19 spike, reopening the economy will be very difficult, Sopel said. 

"I think [it] is likely to prolong the agony for the United States. If you've got people moving from New York to Oklahoma or whatever it happens to be, and they're carrying the virus with them… you've got no control. 

"I think that this is where there is a logical flaw. That is why Tony Fauci - the President's chief medical adviser - is saying there should be a nationwide shutdown. And Donald Trump is saying there shouldn't be."