The question is deceptively simple: Why haven’t we been able to put the coronavirus behind us? There are plenty of explanations why this disruption, which began in February and March, is poised to carry into 2021.
The first reason is obvious. The virus is a persistent little organism, one that has been cited in 210,000 deaths in the United States alone. At this rate, there will be 300,000 virus-related fatalities by the end of the year.
Millions more Americans have been infected and have recovered. And while infection and death rates have been reduced substantially in many states, as a country the coronavirus continues to infect too many people. President Trump and others in the White House may be the most prominent example, but they are not alone.
The president himself also is at fault. From the start, he dismissed the virus as a non-story, something the government had under control. Only occasionally did reality intervene, such as when he conceded this summer that things were going to get worse before they got better.
One the whole, though, too many people got the message that things weren’t as bad as they seemed, and they could go about their lives uninterrupted. While it’s true that the vast majority of Americans have not been infected, it’s also true that the impact of the pandemic has been enormous, largely because most people are more cautious about where they go.
This leads to another reason the virus has lingered: Some of the government efforts to get it under control and help the damaged economy recover were ineffective.
The Washington Post website presented an analysis of this year’s $4 trillion federal assistance. A total of $636 billion, or 16%, went to hospitals, expanded testing, vaccine research and other efforts that might have made a difference in reducing the spread of the virus. It’s hard to say that $636 billion wasn’t enough, but the facts are that the virus is still with us.
Another $884 billion, or 22%, went to individuals who lost their jobs. This aid was imperfect — too much unemployment money, for example — but these programs have expired, with no more help likely until after the election. Only half of the 22 million jobs lost this year have been recovered. That makes plain the impact of the pandemic.
The biggest beneficiaries of assistance were business of all sizes, who got $2.3 trillion, more than half the money. But too often this aid did not contain restrictions on spending. Companies also could get relief for losses that occurred as far back as 2018, well before the virus arrived.
To use an extreme example, the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain got a $50 million tax break at the same time it furloughed 41,000 employees. A number of businesses got money through the Paycheck Protection Program but were unable to protect the jobs of many workers.
Back in March, it was easy to dismiss the warnings of scientists who said we were in for a long battle. Unfortunately, they were right, and there are a number of reasons why.