“In 1941, with war tearing through Europe and Asia and America on the precipice of joining the conflict, President Franklin D. Roosevelt compelled and inspired industries and individuals to rally for the greater good. Food was rationed without rioting, and car plants all but stopped producing automobiles in favor of tanks and fuselages. By 1944, American factory workers were building nearly 100,000 warplanes a year — or about 11 per hour.
The United States is again faced with a crisis that calls for a national response, demanding a mobilization of resources that the free market or individual states cannot achieve on their own. The coronavirus pandemic has sickened more than 180,000 people around the globe, and claimed more than 7,000 lives already. Based on what they know about the virus so far, experts say that between two million and 200 million people could be infected in the coming weeks and months, in the United States alone. If the worst came to pass, as many as 1.7 million of our neighbors and loved ones could die. How many people are affected depends on the actions that we as a nation take right now.
Understandably, many American leaders have been focused on shoring up an economy that’s hemorrhaging money and trust. Many of the measures being advanced by Congress, like paid sick leave, are crucial. But the best hope for the economy, and the nation as a whole, is a strong public health response to the coronavirus.
Confusion has reigned, among health care professionals and laypeople alike, over when or whether to test patients, quarantine the exposed and isolate the sick — even over how worried to be. Part of the problem is a supply shortage that is already growing dire in some places. But another problem is the lack of consistent messages from leaders, President Trump in particular. For weeks now, clear statements — for example, that the worst is yet to come — have been undercut by blithe assurances that everything is under control.