Hubris is the main reason USA has the largest number of Covid cases
The CDC director Rober Redfield told the Senate yesterday he believed face masks were “the most important, powerful public health tool we have” to combat coronavirus. “This face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take a Covid vaccine” he said.
When Covid emerged in China in December 2019, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore all acted swiftly to impose wearing masks and social distancing before any significant cases were observed. Japan did not shut down the economy and most other countries in Asia shut down only parts of the economy for short periods. All these countries had experienced the SARS epidemic and had developed protocols that were put into action immediately. The result is some of the lowest infection rates and deaths per capita in the world.
The most apt comparison is with Japan which has a large population and a highly developed economy. Japan’s population is one third that of the US and it has recorded 1500 deaths versus our shameful 200,000 despite having twice as many seniors per capita. The US has 13 times the number of deaths for 3 times the population. The number of Covid cases per million of population is 40 times that of Japan. and the number of Covid deaths per million is 55 times that of Japan.
In contrast to Japan and other North Asian and Southeast Asian nations our leaders dithered and downplayed the threat. Even those who warned us of the dangers initially said masks were not effective in controlling the spread. In February when the cases first started increasing both Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute Allergy and Infectious diseases and Jerome Adams, Surgeon General of the US said on TV that masks were not effective simply disregarding the early success of the Asian countries with masking. Supposedly they were trying to avoid a rush on N95 medical grade masks. But it was already clear that the Asian countries had been using all manners of face masks for two months and seeing very slow spread. I contend hubris prevented them from acknowledging that the Asian countries knew more than us about controlling the spread. They could have said let’s learn from the Asians and use any face covering as a safety measure. But we seem to be inherently incapable of learning from the experience of others.
In the 40 years of my career with major engineering firms in the US, I often observed American hubris first hand. I lived in Singapore for nine years as an American expatriate working on the wastewater treatment system management project. Most expats in Singapore at that time derided the local population as docile followers of government dictates.
There was a palpable sense of American superiority. We were proud of our vast knowledge and experience. Our behavior towards clients reflected our belief in our innate superiority. When the client was a foreign company or government the attitude was one of benign condescension at best. If it happened to be a developing country using US foreign assistance funds the attitude was almost imperial. The attitude was we are the best, we know it all and you need to learn from us. There was never any room for us to learn from their experience. The experience of others was ignored or downplayed.
Hubris gets in the way. If it is not invented here it must not be right.
Never one to let a crisis go to waste Trump and many Republican members of Congress could not resist making masking a political football. Hubris is on open display daily in their statements and rhetoric. Proud Americans who value individual freedom should not be obligated to wear face coverings. In Trump’s twisted view of the world only the liberal leftist coastal elites wear masks while the real heartland Americans are encouraged to go maskless and attend political rallies. Social media memes mocking the masked Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden are the staple of right wing posts mocking liberals.
Misplaced hubris and a foolish defense of individual freedoms played out to cause huge suffering and a rapid spread of the contagion. By the time the major hot spots like New York and California were in lockdown mode the virus had seeded itself in huge swaths of the population.
All our government officials who downplayed the early adoption of masking and those who continue to refuse masking need to step up and apologize for misleading the public and for letting the contagion get out of control. They must acknowledge their dismal failure.
Waiting for a vaccine to miraculously end the pandemic is foolhardy. The spread of the virus can be largely limited immediately by masking universally. Mandatory masking is no different than mandatory seat belts. It is an issue of public safety not one of individual freedom.