Polls show that 48 percent of Americans think the United States has fared no worse in dealing with COVID-19 than most other countries and that COVID-19 posed an essentially impossible test. This article refutes that remarkable misperception. It shows that the U.S. COVID-19 mortality rate for 2020, adjusted for population, was more than twice as high as Canada’s and Germany’s; ten times higher than India’s; 29 times higher than Australia’s; 40 times higher than Japan’s; 59 times higher than South Korea’s, and 207 times higher than New Zealand’s mortality rate. In fact, U.S. performance at the level of South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, or Japan in containing the pandemic would have saved over 300,000 American lives in 2020 alone.
This Essay then offers a detailed comparison of the COVID-19 response of the Trump Administration to that of New Zealand, one of the few countries to succeed in virtually eliminating the virus within its borders. While some observers have dismissed New Zealand’s success as an artifact of good luck -- or of its geographic situation as a small, rural, island state -- this Essay offers evidence to suggest that these distinctions are of marginal importance compared to a more crucial distinction: New Zealand’s response followed the now-familiar pandemic containment “playbook” to the letter while the Trump Administration departed from that playbook at every turn. The weight of the evidence thus strongly suggests that the tragic disparity between America’s COVID-19 performance and New Zealand’s is primarily due -- not to geography or happenstance – but to a stark contrast of messaging, policy and implementation in the pandemic response strategy adopted by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern compared to that of President Trump. Leadership matters.
Parker, Richard, "Why America's Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic Failed: Lessons From New Zealand's Success" (2021). Faculty Articles and Papers. 528.