Is the United States too far gone to save from COVID-19? Here’s what the experts say

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In a country of 331 million people, with 50 state governments employing 50 different approaches to the coronavirus crisis, whoever wins the election in November has a mammoth task ahead to contain the outbreak.

The virus has killed more than 205,000 people in the United States, accounting for one out of five deaths worldwide despite the country’s wealth and world-class medical resources.

Twenty-eight states reported their daily record high of COVID-19 cases in the month of October as experts warned another wave, maybe even bigger than the last two, would hit the US this winter.

So what would public health experts, epidemiologists and economists do if they were in charge?

The ideas are as wild as they are endless, ranging from a multi-billion dollar mass testing plan to implementing another circuit breaking lockdown.

While some solutions appear more in keeping with the models of other nations — including testing, tracing and isolating — others are designed to better fit the American system of governance.

But would any actually prove useful to the US President after the election?

The first problem is a fragmented system

As with other countries, the states take the lead in managing their own coronavirus outbreaks in the United States.

A possible nationwide response could be adopted in conjunction with state measures, but the president would still need every state to be on board with his plan.

“The biggest problem is that most of the actions that can be taken, the authority to take them is at the state level, not at the presidential level,” senior lecturer in American politics and foreign policy at the United States Studies Centre David Smith said.

“So things like lockdowns, mask mandates, closing schools — all of those things happen at the state or local level.

“And there’s not a huge amount that the president can do directly with those kinds of public health measures.”

Dr Smith said the president can certainly encourage states and local governments to take those kinds of measures and can issue guidelines through agencies like the Centres for Disease Control, but at the most, “their guidelines are recommendations”.

“If Joe Biden got elected president and … if he wants a nationwide mask mandate, for example, he would face a lot of resistance from Republican governors if he suggested or recommended something like that,” he said.

“So the big political problem is with how fragmented everything is in America.”

The Resolute Desk, sitting empty in the Oval Office, surrounded by empty chairs
The winner of the 2020 presidential election will have to tackle the world’s largest outbreak of COVID-19.(Reuters: Carlos Barria)

Despite this, there have been some interesting ideas put forward to tackle the pandemic.

We’ve highlighted five of them and asked the experts for their views on whether any are likely to be considered in the United States.

Test, Trace, Isolate

It’s regarded as public health strategy 101 for a reason.

According to the Centre for Disease Control in the US, case investigation and contact tracing is a key strategy for preventing further spread of COVID-19.

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