On January 19, 2020, a 35-year-old man was confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 in Snohomish Country, Washington. Since then, the virus has rapidly spread all across the United States. According to The New York Times, as of April 17th, 2020, more than 640,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 28,000 patients have died in the United States. In China, where the coronavirus first appeared, there have only been 82,341 confirmed cases.
As a Chinese international student studying in the United States, I fully understand the situations in both countries. I also acknowledge how much the coronavirus has impacted my life and my family overseas.
Currently, the number of infected people in the United States is eight times more than that in China. I personally saw the pandemic take over the United States, and I can’t help but ask, why is the US response to the virus such a spectacular failure?
Medical Supply Shortages
After the coronavirus outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, other cities and provinces in China immediately donated millions of dollars in medical products to the region in order to ensure all the healthcare workers would have adequate supplies during the lockdown. Many Chinese abroad also contributed and sent gloves, gowns, and masks to Wuhan.
However, in the United States, each state is overwhelmed by its own problems. According to BBC News, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “Every state, along with the federal government, were competing for equipment, driving up prices for everyone.”
The current situation in the United States is very concerning. Medical workers are exposed to the virus and cannot protect themselves. It is inevitable that the number of infections will increase.
Failed Travel Restrictions
On January 23, 2020, the central government of China announced a lockdown on Wuhan. Public buses, subway systems, and major highways were all shut down. Isolation was also strictly enforced throughout the country. All schools and entertainment venues were temporarily closed. People were not allowed to go out except for grocery shopping or a doctor visit. Security workers would check everyone’s temperature at every entrance to a public venue.
Although President Donald Trump imposed travel restrictions on China on Feb. 1, he failed to control travelers from Europe who kept coming to the country. The travel ban only extended to the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland as well as the 26 EU countries in mid-March, which was too late.
According to The Intercept, on March 14 and March 17 respectively, more than 10,000 direct flights from Europe arrived in 12 major airports in the United States and those flights might have brought an estimated one million people into the country.
Up to today, various modes of public transportation have still not been suspended. Public buses and subways are still running. People can still fly between states and cities. Even New York City, the city suffering the most from the coronavirus crisis, has not fully locked down yet.
“The government should suspend all the flights between cities and force people to stay home or it will be very difficult to slow down the rate of spread,” commented Zhu, a junior student at San Francisco State University.
Shortcomings of Individualism
As a capitalist country, the US social system is built on the belief that individual interests should prevail over that of any social group. In contrast to individualism, collectivism is a set of beliefs that prioritizes groups over individuals. China is an example of a collectivist society.
In China, during the lockdown, going out casually was equivalent to causing trouble to the whole country. The whole country followed the command of the central government to stay at home as much as possible.
“I don’t even remember how many times my temperature got checked,” Hu, my high school classmates posted on WeChat after he went outside for grocery shopping.
In the United States, on the other hand, many people are still leaving their homes for non-essential reasons – going out for runs or walking their dogs without wearing masks even now during the self-quarantine period. Some Americans are still going to church every Sunday, further contributing to the rapid spread of the virus in the country.
“They think it’s their freedom to go outside and they think forcing them to stay home all day violates their basic human rights,” said Ho, a 46 years old Chinese male immigrant. “In general, Americans have no idea of social groups and collectivism,” he added.
Neither individualism, nor collectivism is intrinsically better than the other. Both models have their advantages and disadvantages. However, it is becoming clear that the American individualist framework is unsuited for coping with a pandemic.
“The U.S. may end up less individualistic after the coronavirus pandemic,” Mark Travers, an expert on psychology and survey research, said.