Covid-19 is spreading faster than ever before in the United States, with hospitals in some states running at capacity. The country is now in the same situation that France, Belgium and the Czech Republic were last month, when rapidly rising infections put their health care systems within weeks of failure.
But these countries have managed to avert, for now, the worst-case scenario, in which people die because hospitals are full and they can’t access the care they need to survive. They slowed down the epidemics by imposing lockdowns and strict mask mandates.
Despite the clear evidence from Europe, the White House is still opposing new restrictions. “President Trump wanted me to make it clear that our task force, this administration and our President, does not support another national lockdown. And we do not support closing schools,” Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday, at the first White House coronavirus task force briefing since July.
“It’s evident that in the US, cases are still rising, or at least they’re not going down,” said Mike Tildesley, an infectious disease modeling expert at the University Warwick and a UK government scientific adviser.
“They need to look at the European situation, and I mean, by no means what we have done in Europe is perfect, these governments are probably reacting a little bit slowly, but they are at least reacting, they are doing what they can to make sure that health services are not overwhelmed… and I think this is clearly what’s needed in the US.”
The Czech Republic is a good example. After a very mild spring epidemic, the country relaxed most of its coronavirus restrictions over the summer, ditching compulsory masks and fully reopening the economy.
When cases started rising again in September, the government resisted calls from scientists that tougher measures were needed. By mid-October, the central European country became the world’s worst-affected nation, reporting more new Covid-19 cases per million people than any other major country. The government then said it had no other option than to impose a strict mask mandate and shut down, otherwise its hospitals would likely run out of beds.
Four weeks later, the country is seeing dramatically lower numbers of new infections. While the health care system has been stretched well beyond its limits – the country was forced to deploy teenage nursing students in some hospitals – there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.