Joe Biden fails his own test for evaluating the pandemic response

When Joe Biden ran for president, he blamed Donald Trump for the high number of deaths in the U.S. attributed to the Wuhan coronavirus. He also claimed that U.S. deaths per capita were abnormally high compared to those elsewhere in comparable parts of the world.

That claim was false. As I showed at the time, per capita U.S. deaths from the virus here were in line with those in the countries it made most sense to compare us to — the UK, Spain, France, and Italy. The only exception was Germany, an outlier that, for some reason, has had a very low death count, comparatively speaking.

Under Biden, however, U.S. per capita deaths now outstrip those in all of the above-mentioned nations. Our current death count, per capita, is much higher than the UK’s, France’s, and Spain’s (and, of course, Germany’s). Only Italy’s count is in the same neighborhood as ours, but it’s appreciably lower. We’re at 2,584. Italy is at 2,313.

Another way of looking at the situation is to compare how the U.S. has fared against the new variant that emerged a month or two ago — omicron — with how Europe has fared. This article in Intelligencer makes the comparison.

It finds that the U.S. seems to be faring considerably worse than Europe, as well as South Africa, where omicron first emerged with a vengeance:

From abroad, where COVID-conscious Americans now look for portents of our near-term Omicron future, nearly all the signs have been positive over the last few weeks. In fact, case numbers aside, the U.K. and continental surges and new research from labs in Japan and Liverpool and Cambridge and Hong Kong (among other places) have made Omicron look almost like a best-case scenario or at least what would’ve qualified as one just a few weeks ago, once we knew how quickly the wave was spreading but not yet how quickly the wave would subside or how much severe disease would be left in its wake.

In all of these places, initial case growth was dizzying — if earlier surges were defined by exponential growth, with Omicron it seemed practically stratospheric. But the waves turned quickly — in South Africa, cases peaked just four weeks after the wave began, and in London, the wave has turned now too.

In South Africa, the picture of severity was even more encouraging, since COVID fatalities there reached only a fraction of the level reached at the height of the country’s previous wave (in some charts you couldn’t even see a rise in excess mortality).

But in the U.S., “there are already early signs in hospitalization and ICU data that the experience of Omicron in America may be harsher than has been observed so far in Europe.” The author presents an array of data that substantiates this observation. For example:

In London, ICU demand is not just way down from last winter, it is already declining. In New York, it is not just approaching last winter’s peak but clearly on the rise. . .A look at the country as a whole shows the same troubling pattern.

The author concludes:

The ultimate outcome is not yet clear, but if the early course of Omicron through Europe suggested a decoupling of cases from hospitalizations and deaths, the early course of the variant through the U.S. suggests a decoupling from that encouraging European path.

Why are we faring worse than Europe now? Vaccination rates probably have something to do with it. According to this source, our “full vaccination” rate is much lower than Italy’s, France’s, and Spain’s, and somewhat lower than the UK’s. But South Africa’s full vaccination rate is less than half of ours.

Maybe the mix of variants producing the new cases here differs from the mix in Europe. The more deadly delta variant may represent a larger part of our mix.

Possibly, there’s something about our population that makes us more susceptible to becoming severely ill from the new variant than European populations, but that didn’t make us more susceptible to severe illness from previous versions of the virus.

Or maybe the Biden administration is doing an especially bad job on the covid front.

I would be disinclined to adopt that explanation had Joe Biden not blamed Donald Trump for the number of covid deaths that occurred here during Trump’s presidency. But Biden did blame Trump. Therefore, it seems only fair to blame Biden for his failure to meet the “Europe test” he applied to his predecessor.

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