America failed its people during Covid, a damning report by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has said.

The BMJ has launched a series highlighting the actions the US needed to take during the pandemic to prevent the ‘eye-wateringly high’ death rates it saw compared to its peer nations.

In an editorial to launch the series, guest editors Gavin Yamey from Duke University in North Carolina and Ana Roux from Drexel University in Pennsylvania said crucial steps could have been taken to prevent the Covid ‘pandemic chaos.’

The authors said several mistakes made in the US that led to the fumbling of the country’s Covid response included keeping schools closed for prolonged periods of time, lack of clear and consistent information from federal agencies, the closure of some public services and unproven scientific advice, including to keep six feet apart.

Even after research showed that schools could be reopened safely with basic public health measures, 'too many kept teaching online only,' the report said

Even after research showed that schools could be reopened safely with basic public health measures, ‘too many kept teaching online only,’ the report said

For most of 2020, the CDC advised Americans to wear masks outdoors if they were within six feet of one another

For most of 2020, the CDC advised Americans to wear masks outdoors if they were within six feet of one another

In early 2020, tens of thousands of schools across the country closed their doors in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus – turning to virtual educating that saw millions of children learning online and being isolated. 

And while, eventually, in 2021, research showed schools could be reopened safely with basic public health measures put into place, like improved ventilation, ‘too many kept teaching online only,’ the report said.

This meant children missed out on vital learning and socialization, as well as acquiring natural immunity to other viruses from mixing with their peers.

Additionally, after other studies showed catching Covid via objects and surfaces was unlikely and transmission outdoors was far less common than indoors, some states still kept parks, playgrounds and beaches closed – forcing people to remain indoors with little to no socialization for months.

This had a devastating impact on mental and physical health.

A Gallup report released in December 2023 surveyed more than 5,000 US adults in all 50 states and tracked changes in mental and physical conditions from 2019,  before the pandemic made its way to the US.

It found that since pandemic-era lockdowns, Americans have experienced record highs of obesity and diabetes, as well as increases in high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. They also developed worse diets.

In other 2020 guidance from the CDC, Americans were advised – and in some states, mandated – to wear masks outdoors if they were within six feet of one another.

This guidance was finally dropped in April 2021 after the CDC acknowledged mounting evidence that outdoor transmission of coronavirus is exceedingly rare, accounting for less than 10 percent of cases. 

Elevated risks of transmission were mainly linked to crowded gatherings with the potential to turn into super-spreader events and to people being within close range of one another. 

And while the US had bountiful scientific resources, America’s Covid response was lacking, the authors said, because the government demonstrated a ‘surprising inability to generate reliable information, communicate it in a timely and consistent manner, and translate it into sound policy.’

‘These failures began at the top,’ the authors said. 

They pointed to then President Donald Trump’s suggestion in 2020 of injecting disinfectant into people with Covid, which had ‘dreadful consequences’ and ‘symbolize[d] the chaotic presidential communications.’

Communication failures were compounded by the division of power between the national government and the 50 states, which meant Americans’ experiences of the Covid response ‘depended on zip code,’ they added.

While the aim of the series is ‘not to assign blame,’ there is ‘plenty to go around,’ the editorial said.

The BMJ piece also highlighted another key context that exacerbated America’s poor response to the pandemic: the nation’s pre-existing healthcare inequalities.

These included gaps in healthcare coverage and accessibility, the absence of social safety nets – like school feeding programs – and workplace protections.

Social inequality and systemic racism also made things worse, the report said.

There was also reduced funding for both state and federal health departments.

Between 2010 and 2019, the CDC’S budget and funding for public health emergency preparedness was reduced.

In that period, per capita spending for state public health departments fell by 16 percent and for local health departments by 18 percent.

‘Hollowed-out state and local health departments were poorly equipped to step into the breach’ left by the Trump government ‘bungling the federal response’, the report said.

Prior to the release of the BMJ report, Dr Anthony Fauci was grilled by Congress earlier this month over some of the failures during the pandemic highlighted in the editorial.

The infectious disease expert said data did not support recommendations to keep six feet of distance from one another and vaccine mandates he personally advised likely increased vaccine hesitancy.

Dr Fauci told the House coronavirus subcommittee that scientific data was not a driver of the blanket six-foot recommendation to reduce the spread of the virus, saying the rule ‘just sort of appeared.’

He also said vaccine mandates, which split the nation in 2021, likely reinforced a general sense of distrust in the government with more and more people questioning its motives.

Fauci also flip flopped on his view of Trump’s 2020 orders to restrict incoming travelers from China, where the Covid pandemic originated from.

He told Congress during the January 2024 hearing that he supported the ban – despite publicly criticizing the move when Trump announced it.

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