(Washington) The toll of the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States, which topped 500,000 deaths on Monday, is “heartbreaking,” US President Joe Biden said in a touching speech from the White House.
“We must resist the temptation to see every life as a statistic […] We must do it to honor the dead, ”he added as he prepared to observe a minute of silence in the presence of his wife Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff .
“I also ask that we act, that we remain vigilant, that we keep our distance, that we wear masks, that we get vaccinated,” he added.
After the speech, the two couples of the American executive appeared in front of the White House, where they meditated a few moments, first silent then accompanied in this tribute by the very popular hymn “Amazing Grace”, played by a marine orchestra.
Joe Biden then signed, surrounded by 500 candles to symbolize the 500,000 dead arranged on the balcony of the White House and on the stairs leading to it, before disappearing from view and cameras.
With 500,159 people having succumbed to the virus and more than 28 million cases of contamination, the United States is the country most affected in the world in absolute value by the pandemic.
Mask, politics, inequalities: some reasons for the US record of COVID-19
Why does the world’s largest power hold the sad record for the number of known deaths from the disease? What first lessons are American specialists drawing from this pandemic year?
Why has the United States been hit so hard?
For Doctor Joseph Masci, who has fought all epidemics since AIDS, today one of the managers of Elmhurst Hospital in Queens – at the heart of the epidemic in New York – the COVID-19 pandemic presented a element of surprise.
Before the pandemic, the United States watched coronaviruses “from afar,” he says. There had been very few cases of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a coronavirus detected in 2002) in Canada. “And there, suddenly, the United States found itself at the epicenter of the problem.”
The Trump administration’s “messy” reaction has not helped. “In a country like ours, with 50 states, an immense surface area, a network of largely private hospitals, it was going to be difficult to bring everyone together around the same strategies. “
“The fact that hospitals were competing for protective equipment made no sense. It would have been necessary to centralize that very quickly, and they did not do it, ”he says.
For him as for Dr. Michele Halpern, specialist in infectious diseases in a hospital in the New York suburbs where the epidemic arrived in force in February 2020, one of the mistakes was to let the wearing of the mask become “a political question” .
With its reversals, its skepticism displayed on the virus and the barrier gestures, Donald Trump’s management of the health crisis has been strongly criticized.
“It’s not difficult to wear a mask, you get used to it. But you have to make people understand that this is important, ”says Dr. Halpern.
What are the first lessons to learn from the crisis?
For Joseph Masci, the first lesson was to learn how to reconfigure hospitals to be able to cope with a sudden influx of patients.
“We participate in disaster preparedness exercises […], we did a lot of exercise, but we had never done any to simulate it – suddenly going from 12 intensive care beds to 150, with the necessary staff and equipment. “
Over the months, the group of public hospitals that Elmhurst is a part of have come up with strategies to spread the burden among New York’s 11 public hospitals.
More generally, says Michele Halpern, “we need to realize that hospitals need resources […] You have to invest in research, but also in hospitals and retirement homes, you have to have enough staff and they have to have the equipment they need ”.
The epidemic has also exposed in the United States inequalities in health, especially in housing, which mainly affect black or Hispanic minorities, underlines Dr. Masci. The promiscuity caused by housing that is too small makes it difficult to respect barrier gestures and it is necessary to consider ways of adapting housing to future epidemics “because there will be others”, he says.
Will we still be wearing masks at the end of the year?
Despite the acceleration of the vaccination campaign, uncertainties surrounding the British and South African variants are pushing experts to remain cautious.
Without these and with more than 70% of the population vaccinated, there would be “a good chance that we no longer wear masks” at the end of 2021, says Joseph Masci. If they do settle in, it becomes “much more difficult to say that we will be out of the woods” in December.
“I hope the vaccines will work, but it’s hard to be sure that they will work in the long term or with the new variants,” says Dr Halpern. “You have to be prepared for it to last a while longer. “
For the long term, says Dr Masci, “we must not” fall into the trap of forgetting “by not thinking about the epidemic once it has passed.
“It is disturbing to think that all of this happened without warning. […] We really need to have a global pathogen detection system, because we live in a time when we can no longer say: there is something happening in Asia that will not affect America ”.
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