Opinion | Not Winning This Fight

This chart shows why.

By David Leonhardt

Opinion Columnist

This article is part of David Leonhardt’s newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it each weekday.

China and South Korea have flattened their curves. Italy, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands have begun to flatten their curves.

The United States still has not.

More than half of all confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States have been diagnosed in the past five days. Depending on what data source you use, yesterday was either the worst day for new cases or one of the worst. And more than 3,000 Americans with the virus have died, meaning the death toll has now exceeded that of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

As you can see in the chart above, the other three countries with the world’s largest number of confirmed cases — Italy, China and Spain — were all making significant progress at a similar point in their outbreaks. But the response in the United States has been slow and uneven.

President Trump spent almost two months denying that the virus was a serious problem and spreading incorrect information about it. Since then, he has oscillated between taking sensible measures and continuing to make false statements. (Yesterday, he said that hospital masks might be “going out the back door” — suggesting that doctors or somebody else were stealing the masks rather than using them.)

Many state leaders — both Democrats, like Gov. Jay Inslee in Washington State, and Republicans, like Gov. Larry Hogan, in Maryland — have done a much better job. Altogether, the federal, state and local policies on social distancing may be starting to have an effect. The number of fevers recorded nationwide is falling, as Donald G. McNeil Jr. of The Times notes, which is an encouraging sign.

But the United States is badly behind. Both South Korea and the United States had their first confirmed case around the same day, in late January, as Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress points out. South Korea has suffered only about 150 deaths, one-twentieth as many as the United States.

For more

John Burn-Murdoch, who’s been creating some excellent charts for The Financial Times, explains that larger countries have not been suffering more rapid virus spread than smaller countries: “Population does not affect pace of spread.”

McKay Coppins, The Atlantic: “Hundreds of people dying in a day, makeshift hospital tents popping up in Central Park, bodies being loaded into refrigerated trucks, a Navy hospital ship pulling into the harbor — four weeks ago, this would have been dismissed as a wildly alarmist view of the coronavirus in NY.”

Connor Harris of the Manhattan Institute writes that Sweden also appears to have responded poorly to the virus and is now suffering substantially more deaths than Denmark or Norway. “Sweden took a laissez-faire approach to COVID-19 while their neighbors shut down public life and sealed the borders. It looks like we’re finally seeing the results,” Harris writes.

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