America has led the world in science and technology for decades. Ever since World War II, the U.S. has dazzled the world with its scientific prowess — nuclear weapons, space exploration, medical advances, the internet and so many other inventions and innovations that it is practically impossible to catalog. The rest of the world has marveled at the scientific leadership of this remarkable country.
The coronavirus is no exception. Karl Lauterbach, a Harvard-educated epidemiologist who is now a German legislator, credits American scientific research for that country’s successful fight to control the virus. As of June 20, Germany had reported 191,000 cases of COVID-19, with 8,960 deaths. As a result of keeping infections low, deaths and economic disruption in Germany have been relatively modest.
Lauterbach says that many of the measures that proved effective in his country were “based on studies by leading U.S. research institutes.” Based “almost entirely” on U.S. studies showing the effectiveness of face masks, Germany mandated their use in public settings. The country also implemented a nationwide strategy of social distancing, as well as rigorous testing and tracing for infections.
It is satisfying to learn that American scientific knowhow was instrumental in saving lives and substantially reducing the economic impact of the coronavirus in Germany. Unfortunately, the Trump administration disregarded much of that U.S. scientific research. We have no nationwide strategy for testing, tracing and social distancing. Recommendations were made available to the 50 states, but each has been left to fend for itself in the struggle against the virus.
If the U.S. had followed Germany’s lead and relied upon the advice of the same American experts, we might have suffered only one-fourth as many COVID-19 infections and deaths. That is, since the U.S. population is four times that of Germany, we might have had only about 764,000 infections (instead of 2.29 million) and only about 35,840 deaths (instead of 121,000). Taking Germany’s lead, which was based on U.S. science, 85,160 Americans might still be alive.
One of the most effective means of controlling the virus, as shown by numerous studies, is to wear a face mask in public settings. Yet the president has shown no leadership in urging the use of this simple means of preventing infections and saving lives.
Rather, he has made it a test of loyalty for his followers, essentially implying that they would spite him by wearing a mask.
American experts say that we must substantially increase testing to find COVID-19 carriers if we hope to effectively fight the virus, but Donald Trump blows off testing as unimportant. At Tulsa on June 20, he said he had told his staff to “slow the testing down” because more testing reveals more COVID-19 cases. That may explain why we have no national testing program.
Years ago, when U.S. scientists revealed that second-hand smoke can cause cancer and respiratory diseases in non-smokers, states and cities took action to restrict smoking in public areas. Some smokers claimed the restrictions violated their constitutional rights. We have now accepted those restrictions because they protect the rights of others to breathe without risking their life or health.
As with smoking, there is no constitutional right to endanger the lives of others by exhaling the coronavirus into the air in public places. It is at least as dangerous and rude as blowing smoke in the faces of others. Spreading the virus in that fashion will result in more infections and deaths while impeding efforts to get the economy back up and running. Let’s follow the advice of American scientists, just as Germany and other countries have done, by wearing masks in public places and taking other prudent measures to bring the virus under control.