America’s biggest threat is not COVID 19, but our elected leaders

11 min readApr 2, 2020

Pete Hatemi

The US response to the coronavirus is nothing less than a failure of leadership. The decision to quarantine the country was not made from evidence, or reason, nor was it the last step in a progressive series of actions to protect against Covid-19. It was a panic reaction after months of inaction, denial and misdirection.[1] There is evidence mass quarantine throttles contagions, thereby spreading out its effects over a longer period, and preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed in high contagion areas, but it is not a solution.[2] Quarantine was not even a decision from the federal government to begin with. Shelter-in-place, travel restrictions, workplace and school closures were made by local leaders, superintendents and CEOs, after hearing nothing but conflicting stories from the President, a lack a direction from state Governors, and a continual barrage of sensationalized mainstream media profiting from hysteria, bombarding the public with misrepresented scenes of chaos, alongside the hyper echo-chambers of social media, where the anxious and third parties intent on spreading misinformation work together to create panic. This is not to diminish the seriousness of Covid-19. It is serious and demanded real action months ago. But the treatment must fit the condition and panic is not a strategy. Good data show that while the contagion of the flu is about 1.4, the contagion for Covid-19 is higher at 2+;[3] between 40–60% of people infected are asymptomatic[4] and of those who have symptoms, 80% are mild. The death rate ranges from <1–4%. There are 5,000 deaths in the US, with a projection of 100,000. Yet there is much confusion in those numbers; a non-trivial number of deaths counted as coronavirus include cases of people in their late 80s-90’s, and adults and children already suffering from other life threatening conditions.[5],[6] In comparison, according to the CDC, so far this season there have been at least 38 million flu illnesses, 390,000 hospitalizations and 23,000 deaths.[7] There has been much discussion on the virus, but little on the damage a national shutdown is doing and more importantly no plan to address the long-term serious health, psychological, social, economic, and personal costs that will result from it. A national shutdown could take far more lives in the long run, than Covid-19.

Our national leaders were absent in the months that our country was looking for leadership.[8] A willfully ignorant and emotionally unstable President bears much blame, but this is an equally astounding failure of leadership of the House, by Pelosi specifically, who’s chief accomplishment and interests appears to be her ability to stay in power, and harming the President. It is a failure of leadership in the Senate by McConnell. Indeed, after closed door briefings on the virus, in which Senators and House members were given inside information on the pandemic and future federal action, instead of warning the public, and making decisions to fund and roll out house-to-house testing to target and isolate the virus, they sought to profit from the crisis.[9] Senators Burr (R-N.C.) and Loeffler (R-Ga.), and Rep. Davis (D-Calif) sold stock in specific companies that would be most hit by future quarantine and travel restrictions. Sens McConnell’s and Shaheen’s staff, respectively, bought stock in Moderna, Inc., which is developing a coronavirus vaccine and Clorox, known for bleach and wipes. This is our leadership. In this time of crisis, we will never be able to quantify the number of deaths, or financial ruin, their selfishness, elitism, self-promotion, narcissism and lack of action has led to.

The decision to ignore the virus and early warnings for months, and the decision to not use the WHO test or model a US version after it[10] , and roll out a US test that failed miserably, is arguably due in part to Vice President Pence’s mismanagement[11], and the administration’s decisions to gut our institutions. Had the US simply tested, and then instituted targeted quarantines, notified populations at risk, localized the threat, and put prudent travel and social restrictions in place, it would have stopped the spread of the disease. After months of inaction and failure, the US still has yet to roll out a large-scale national testing program. This is important because other countries, China and Korea for example, have tested and isolated and have the situation under control.[12],[13] We had months to prepare, set up national hospital resource sharing and knowledge programs, purchase ventilators, roll out informational campaigns to the public, and micro-target high risk areas. Third world countries were doing these things in January.[14] We did none of those. Governors such as Cuomo and Newsome lay the blame on President Trump, when they should look in the mirror. Governors are the chief executive of the state, and have enormous resources at their command. They have only their own negligence to blame. They also knew in January and they also did nothing.

The decisions to go along with the hysteria instead of testing and targeted action, is coming from people with an average age over 60, people who are wealthy, have large and multiple homes, good internet, stocked pantries, gyms at home, the best healthcare in the world, and permanent salaries. Their children go to private school; they can afford tutors, live-in nannies, on-line instruction and everything they need. They are protected and they are comfortable. This group of people now advocates for a national shutdown, causing widespread panic, frustration, loss of work, income, and stress on 330 million Americans. Those who failed to act when needed, then made the panic reaction decision, will never feel the consequences of their inaction.[15]

Gov Cuomo and others continue to make misguided statements arguing that there is a trade-off — it is either the economy or human life. [16] Such a view fails to understand the economy is human life. How many people will lose their homes, their health insurance, their future from this shutdown? The consequences will last not weeks or months but decades. There are serious costs to the failure to act when needed prompting the national shutdown, and we are only beginning to experience them. America has hit a record of 3.5 million unemployed per week due to the government’s failure to act in January.[17] In a month those numbers will be 20 million. Shutting down most businesses puts 150 million people out of work. Most Americans are hourly workers[18] in the service industries (administration, construction, retail, drivers, etc.),[19] meaning they will not get paid. Most Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck; they do not even have $400 in the bank for emergencies to cover bills.[20] Most Americans do not live in big comfortable homes or have second vacation homes; many families of four live in two-bedroom apartments, while many others have even less space. The anxiety from the constant flow of fear messages from elected leaders and the media, isolation, close quarters, lack of work, and financial stress, can only lead to psychological distress, public harm and domestic violence[21], including against children. What data we have is starting to show that marriage and relationships are rupturing due to the confinement and anxiety of being put out of work.[22] Suicides have skyrocketed.[23] When we force isolation, we remove a sense of community, and anxiety sets in. When we shut down schools, we take away the only meal a day some children have. We create child care problems for working parents. We deny education to those without means, while those with means get it.

Some people will die from coronavirus. But killing the only lifeline we have to ensure there are medical supplies, ventilators being made, taxpayers to provide funding for all government programs, including health care, defense, and education — is also going to kill people. How is it that was no serious discussion of the trade-offs of early testing and targeted isolation, and ramping up health care facilities, versus locking down the country later? Where were our elected leaders? This is not a trade-off of people dying versus money. This is a trade-off of some people dying versus other people dying and then adding 330 million people suffering, many sacrificing their future, the extent to which we have yet to realize. It is important to weigh those costs against one-another, before making panicked decisions.

Even with the worst of epidemic diseases and viruses, the most dangerous thing is the public. Misinformation leading to panic and hysteria, and the violence that ensues is far more destabilizing and deadly than the most lethal virus. People have already started to look at another with suspicion and vigilantism has begun.[24] As more controls get put on the public, more people will panic. RI’s Governor Raimondo’s house-to-house searches for New Yorkers is a terrific example of a panicked leader, reminiscent of McCarthyism and Nazism.[25] There have been an uptick in violence, including a train engineer attempting to derail a train to attack the USNS Mercy.[26]

We are not the country we were half a century ago. Look at the shelves in our stores. People are not buying what they need, they are buying everything they can. Among things sold out, is ammunition, both in stores and on-line. Since coronavirus cannot be killed with a bullet, it is clear that the public is more threatened by their neighbor than anything else. This is a telling warning sign. The social fabric of our nation is fraying and the government’s behavior is leading to a loss of social trust and capital. This loss is more costly than the massive amount of material and personal resources our leaders have already wasted.

Now the President, the Senate and House have come forward with a bailout. It does not address the problems we face with the virus. It is simply a spending bill. Both the Democrats and Republicans have exploited this crisis for their partisan and personal goals, whether that is to support corporate interests or push unrelated welfare and health care measures. Sen McConnell made sure the bill would not pass without provisions for the FDA to approve ‘innovative’ sunscreens made in his home state. Sunscreen does not prevent Covid-19. Other provisions in the bill give the ultra-wealthy a way to avoid paying taxes altogether.[27] Pork does not kill coronavirus. Even the provisions touted to help the average American, don’t. Two thousand-dollar payments are nothing more than a blatant attempt to vote buy. Americans do not need a short-term universal hand out. They need zero interest loans to pay for bills and house payments over the long run. Instead of the government bailing out businesses, they should bailout the workers. We need a plan to address the virus and to get back to work. And if money is to be given, it should go directly to the workers who are out of work- not students, retirees with no interruption in pay, other people who were not working to begin with, and not to those who are still getting paid salaries. It should not go to employers or businesses with record profits over the last 5 years. It should directly go to the people who are not getting paid and only to those people.

Congress appears only able to spend dollars, but not make actual policy. We need a national strategy. We need a plan to address the problem at hand and for the future pandemics. We need to test for the virus and to test for immunity. Such a test for antibodies [28]is available in Korea and rolling out such a test will get people back to work immediately. We need a federal plan to set up field hospitals for mass causality situations and coronavirus treatment. We need to keep our regular operations running while addressing the threat. No sane strategy shuts down everything and focuses only on a threat, to the detriment of all other things. This is how countries are destroyed, not saved. Indeed, imagine treating a patient for cancer by allowing them to die first, then removing the cancerous cells.

Killing the patient is not a cure and that is the strategy we appear to be undertaking.

We need hospital coordination. We need a better strategic reserve of medical equipment. We need smart laws such as not allowing sick people to fly and full refunds for people when they are sick. We need national policies to let the elderly and immune-comprised shop during certain times of day. We need protective gear widely available for our medical staff, and the public when needed. We need to make high-speed internet a national priority so all children can use it and benefit equally. We need to move on from a third world public transit approach. We need handwashing stations at workplaces. We need a plan to get everyone back to work as soon as possible, and keep companies afloat — not free money, not increased profit — just back to work. We need better screening for people coming into the country for disease vectors. We need a stronger public health apparatus, including reinvestment in our institutions such the CDC and FEMA. We need many more things. And if we need quarantine, then we do it, not ignorantly, not as a panic reaction, but targeted — resulting from a reasoned and informed decision in which we recognize and address the long-term negative consequences.

We do not need the national guard on the streets. Putting people in military uniform or with guns will create anxiety, panic and violence- it will not reduce it. Indeed, if the strategy is to not have social contact, then mobilizing the guard will only put those members, their families and the country at increased risk — unless the risk is overstated? We send our military overseas to fight wars, not to threaten the public at home. The guard are not police, they are not trained in maintaining civil order. To pretend otherwise is foolish. Those who deploy them are doing so for political purposes. If we are to use the military, use them for medical purposes only, they are adept at field hospitals. That would reduce public anxiety, and serve the public good.

Both the Republican and Democratic party have shown they are equally incompetent and corrupted. Our leaders are no longer the best of us, but reflect the least of us. If this virus and the response has shown the public anything, it has shown that our greatest risk is not the virus, or other countries, or terrorism. It is our leadership and the two-party system. As long as our leaders are not held accountable, our democracy will diminish, and our quality of life will as well.

Standard Disclaimer: The analyses, thoughts, suggestions, or experiences here reflect my own and not those of the US government, Penn State, or any organization I currently work for, have in the past, or will in the future.

































Pete Hatemi has 30+ years of experience in the areas of defense, technology, counter-terrorism, psychological training, and higher education.