The US coronavirus response is still one of the worst in the world

Hello, everyone! Welcome to the next edition of Insider Today. Please sign up here.

As a reminder, this is “Insider in your inbox,” an email publication that David Plotz and I are writing with the help of many of our excellent journalists. Our goal is to provide you with insight, analysis, and some of the big stories of the day.

Thanks as always for reading. Please feel free to reply to this email and tell us what you like or don’t like, and we’ll evolve and improve as we go.

-Henry Blodget (henry@insider.com) and David Plotz (david@insider.com)

SUMMARY: Four months later, the US coronavirus response is still one of the worst in the world. How to follow this bizarre presidential campaign. That armed protest in Michigan makes the “reopen” movement look thuggish and dumb. Turns out, “Groundhog Day” is a horror movie. The most popular stories on Insider this morning…

A few months in, the US coronavirus response is still one of the worst in the world

newport beach coronavirus

source
Michael Heiman/Getty Images

Back in January, the United States and South Korea each identified their first confirmed coronavirus case on the same day.

South Korea responded immediately and competently, by testing, tracing, and isolating cases and getting ahead of the epidemic.

The United States, meanwhile, initially denied that the virus was a threat, blew its first attempt to roll out tests, and then never marshaled the strong federal response that could have slowed the outbreak before it really got rolling.

Three months later, here’s where things stand.

South Korea is close to exterminating the virus:

daily covid cases south korea v2

source
Andy Kiersz/Insider

The US has, finally, after about six weeks of half-hearted lockdowns, “flattened the curve.” But the US is still confirming about 30,000 cases a day – with the true number of cases likely far higher. The US is behind where it needs to be on testing and tracing capacity and lacks a clear strategy for isolating cases and protecting the most vulnerable.

daily US covid cases

source
Andy Kiersz/Insider

The tragic result of the US’s poor response is the highest number of fatalities in the world. More than 63,000 Americans have died, and counting. As a chart of “deaths per million” shows, the US has company in this grim statistic: The UK, Spain, Italy, and other countries were similarly blindsided and slow to react. But a glance at South Korea shows what could have been.

covid 19 deaths per capita country comparison v2

source
Andy Kiersz/Insider

So, what’s the outlook from here?

As pressure and frustration about lockdowns build, the US is starting to reopen. The frustration is understandable: The pandemic has clobbered our economy and upended our lives. But without a strong testing-tasting-and-isolation response-or a more sophisticated and optimized set of restrictions-“shelter-in-place” lockdowns have been our most effective tactic. Most experts think the reopening move is premature and will likely lead to a reacceleration of outbreaks in some areas of the country.

The US has ramped testing capacity, but is still far behind where it needs to be. The US is now doing a little more than 200,000 tests per day, but experts believe it needs to be doing many times more. Experts also estimate that the US will need to hire as many as 300,000 contact tracers to interview everyone who has a confirmed case, figure out who they interacted with, and warn and test them. And, because the coronavirus transmits easily within the home, the US also needs to develop a clear isolation and quarantine approach.

US states and cities can and must execute much of this strategy. But they need federal money, resources, and leadership to do it. Alas, the US still lacks a strong, competent federal response.

Our best hope is that infections slow sharply, testing and tracing capacity continues to increase, and we discover strong drugs and treatments before the fall flu season. Otherwise, we’ll be living with this pandemic well into next year and beyond. -HB

How to follow this strange presidential campaign

Trump/Biden

source
JIM WATSON,DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images

This never happened“: On Friday morning Joe Biden denied Tara Reade’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her in the early 1990s, capping a chaotic week in the 2020 presidential campaign, during which:

And that was just this week!

The 2020 presidential election takes place six months from Sunday, so we’re at the start of what promises to be one of the strangest political seasons in American history. The pandemic has played 52-card pickup with the campaign-the Democratic primaries more-or-less called off, the Democratic nominee campaigning from his basement, the conventions on the brink of cancellation, Election Day itself at risk, the presumed campaign issues-strong economy, impeachment, corruption, immigration-made obsolete by the COVID-19 catastrophe.

This disarray and uncertainty mean that we’re going to have to follow this campaign differently than we have in the past. The 2020 race will not have traditional campaign events, so a lot of the natural color of the campaign will vanish. The overwhelming nature of the pandemic and the economic collapse will flummox traditional forecasting tools. Instead, the election will likely boil down to three key questions. These, not all the swirl, are what to pay attention to in coming months.

First, how much blame and credit is Trump getting for the pandemic, the economic collapse, and any potential rebound? How much is he being held responsible for whatever direction the country seems to be going in November?

Second, is Biden a credible candidate, or will he be seriously damaged by either the Reade accusation or something else? Depending on where we are with question one, he doesn’t have to be good, just barely viable, to defeat Trump

Third, and most importantly: Instead of looking at polls, look at the mechanics of voting. The variable impact of the pandemic – and how partisan state officials respond to that – could cause vast differences in how the election actually takes place in different states. It may matter less which candidate has strong support in a state than how that state is conducting its election – by mail or in person, in the midst of an outbreak or during a quiet time, with more open polling stations or fewer. – DP

Armed protest in the Michigan statehouse diminishes the reopen movement

A militia group with no political affiliation from Michigan stands in front of the Governors office after protesters occupied the state capitol building during a vote to approve the extension of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's emergency declaration/stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan

caption
A militia group with no political affiliation from Michigan stands in front of the Governors office after protesters occupied the state capitol building during a vote to approve the extension of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency declaration/stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan
source
Seth Herald/Reuters

Yesterday’s protest in Michigan represented a new, disturbing development in the reopen movement. The peaceful crowd that swarmed the lobby of the state capitol, protesting the ongoing state of emergency, included at least half-a-dozen heavily armed men.

Michigan law permits open-carry even inside the state capitol (though not on the legislative floor), so the men were breaking no laws. Still, the images of them occupying the public galleries above the lobby were disturbing: Some Michigan legislators wore bulletproof vests as they entered the building.

The armed display distorts a critical public debate. The display in a state capitol – in the place built for peaceful, civil debate – warps the work legislators need to do, and overlays it with menace. You can’t argue with a loaded gun.

It’s also worth asking whether those praising these armed protesters would have responded the same way had a group of African-American men, similarly armed, done the same thing. -DP

Groundhog Day is a horror movie

A smart, short essay in the Atlantic about the 1993 comedy, why it’s so relevant today, and why we couldn’t see how dark it was until we had to live it ourselves. -DP

While you were distracted by the pandemic…

Officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau manipulated government research, giving the Trump administration cover to roll back regulations limiting “payday loans.” -DP

THE BIG 3*:

Sicily is so eager to get you to go that they’ll pay for part of your trip!

Most people won’t be traveling anytime soon. But for the brave and frugal, there’s Sicily. The Italian island is offering to pay half of flight costs and a third of hotel costs for anyone who wants to go once the travel ban is lifted. They’ll throw in tickets to museums and archaeological sites, too.

Your pets can’t tell you they’re stressed, so here’s what to look for

This pet is NOT stressed.

caption
This pet is NOT stressed.
source
Joey Hadden/Business Insider

Per veterinarians, this is what your dog or cat might do when they’re anxious:

  • Obsessive grooming
  • Nose-licking
  • Excessive shedding
  • Yawning
  • Hiding under furniture or blankets
  • Trembling and pacing
  • Dilated pupils and flat ears
  • “Accidents” (Bladder and bowel-related)
  • Tail-tucking

“Janice” from “Friends” has a 20-year old daughter, and she’s a TikTok celebrity

Oh my gawwwwwd!

Mother and daughter!

caption
Mother and daughter!
source
TikTok

* The 3 most popular stories on Insider this morning.

Thank you for reading! Please let us know what you think. If we think other readers will enjoy your note, we’ll publish it! henry@insider.com and david@insider.com