If failing to prepare at first is dangerous cultural arrogance, what is it to just give up? Already, there have been a fleet of damning postmortems assessing and picking apart the total failure of the country to respond in the winter. But that failure wasn’t final, or ultimately determinative, since many other countries that failed similarly at first have managed to quite dramatically turn things around. But not the United States, which is failing again every single day. As James Surowiecki joked morbidly, “We’ve tried nothing, and we’re all out of ideas.”
Worse still, there are few signs this trajectory might change anytime soon. The most encouraging news, terrifyingly enough, comes from the disease itself: As the caseload explodes, fatality rates continue to fall, as Trinh Nguyen among others has pointed out, and indeed America’s per capita death rate is bundled closely with most of the other nations of western Europe. But experts caution against drawing too much optimism from that fact, since we don’t entirely understand what explains the drop (younger people getting the disease, at least for now; vulnerable people protecting themselves better, at least for now; marginally but meaningfully improved treatment in hospitals; a variety of epidemiological factors, including a mutation that may increase infectiousness but not severity or the protective benefits of “cross immunity” inherited from other coronaviruses) or how long it will last (the daily death toll, which has been declining steadily for months, is almost certain to begin climbing again; given the caseload, the question is how tragically fast that ascent will be).