How is the U.S. faring in the battle against coronavirus compared to other countries? In this episode, Glynn Cosker talks to political commentator and retired Marine John Ubaldi about how different countries are managing the pandemic and issues like the lack of globally accepted metrics to measure number of the deaths caused by COVID-19. Also learn how the pandemic is affecting the upcoming U.S. election. A transcript of this podcast is below.
Glynn Cosker: Hello, and welcome to AMU Disaster Crew. I’m Glynn Cosker, your host and managing editor of EDM Digest and In Homeland Security, two of American Military University’s news sites.
Joining me today is John Ubaldi from The Ubaldi Reports. John is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps, with three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan to his name. He’s a frequent political commentator on various news outlets, and he is the author of “The New Business Brigade: Veterans’ Dynamic Impact on US Business,” now available on Amazon. How are you, John?
John Ubaldi: I’m doing pretty good, Glynn. How are you doing?
Glynn Cosker: I’m doing okay, and hopefully, I’ll stay that way, and I hope that all of our listeners, and you, and everybody in this fine country stay safe over the next few months and beyond, because you know what we’re dealing with. There’s this thing going around right now called COVID-19, and it’s, I don’t know if you agree with me, it’s the biggest crisis that we’ve seen maybe since the ’60s, perhaps. I don’t know. I mean, it’s up there with World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis.
John Ubaldi: World War II, Great Depression stuff. Yeah. It’s up there.
Glynn Cosker: Yeah. Lots of bad things. It’s up there on that list and there’s lots of talking heads that have been giving their various views on how well we’ve handled it. Some people think, “Hey, it’s fine. Status quo. You can do what you can do, and you just get on with it and you do your best.” And of course there’s a larger faction that is outraged about the response, and especially when it’s compared to the other developed countries, or Europe and Asia and such. So, that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
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Let’s get right to it, John. America is fighting this battle against COVID-19 with lockdowns and closing states and closing the economy back in the spring, into the early summer months. How do we compare with the rest of the world?
John Ubaldi: Well, it’s interesting you say that. I read an article just recently from the BBC, and they said, “It’s hard to quantify that one’s country is doing better than the other, because each country has different metrics, how they fought it, how they recognized it, and how they quantify who died from coronavirus from another country.” Each country is different.
Belgium has a different way of doing it than Great Britain does. Sweden and Germany, there’s no one set metrics. But for the United States, we kind of got into it in January of this year. We were kind of slow at the initial start.
And then when the president got involved, he was a little bit slow, but then he locked down flights coming in from China first, then from Europe, and then it just went from there. Then we had the total lockdown of the economy when they were trying to protect the hospitals to make sure we had all the ventilators, we had all the equipment, and we had all the procedures in place, because we thought the hospitals were going to be overwhelmed.
So, Trump had some good points. I think he was a little bit overoptimistic at the beginning. That’s why you saw the spike in the middle of May, June, July. People were tired of being locked down, so they kind of got out and it kind of spiked again. Now, we’re seeing the trajectory go down.
Glynn Cosker: Yeah. You’ve made some very good points already about this, especially how other countries record their statistics. But who’s to say that we’re correct and the rest of the world … Great Britain you mentioned. Obviously, there’s Korea, and Japan, and who’s right? We don’t know. I guess you just have to trust it and say, “Okay, whatever method this country is using, it’s working for them.” How do we tell if it’s 100% accurate? There’s no way of telling.
John Ubaldi: Well, there’s no way, but the one thing that I would let your listeners know, each country has a different system of government. Europe has a strong parliamentary system, where the national leadership kind of control things. Asia, if you go to Taiwan, and especially South Korea, South Korea did a really good job on handling the coronavirus, but they have a strong national government. It’s not as strong down at the local levels.
Then you go into the United States, the executive branch has certain powers, but when it comes to something like this, most of the power is vested in the Constitution down to the state level to make some of these decisions, and each state kind of went its own direction.
They took guidance from the national medical authorities, but then they also took guidance from the CDC, and even New York took the guidance from the CDC that wasn’t as accurate as they portrayed it to be. That’s why they had a huge death rate in their nursing homes. So, you got to factor in all that.
The one country that I think did pretty well and got ahead of it, and that’s because of its situation, was Taiwan.
Because they went through the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s, so they knew something was happening in Wuhan, so they contacted the Chinese government, and then they got just press releases and said, “Something’s not right here.” So, when they first started getting passengers and they tested them, that’s when they shut it down early, so they prevented a lot of things because they’re more into the forefront because of their situation in that part of the world against China.
Glynn Cosker: Right. But of course, it’s a tiny jurisdiction. I mean, it’d probably fit into Rhode Island.
John Ubaldi: And that’s another thing. The United States is a far larger country than South Korea, Taiwan, and Europe.
Glynn Cosker: Well, not just that. You mentioned the different state level constitutions, or executive branches and such. And each state seemingly had a different way of handling it.
John Ubaldi: Correct.
Glynn Cosker: Certain states jumped right onto the lockdown. California, I believe, was the very first one, and that was in mid-March or something like that. And then some never even had one. Let me think.
John Ubaldi: South Dakota was the other one.
Glynn Cosker: Yeah, South Dakota was in the news, and Utah, I think, never had one. But I guess the most populous states did, but there’s a lot of people that have said, “Well, okay, it is at the state level that all of these unprecedented pandemic measures have to be brought in at the state level, and President Trump, he’s the guy at the top. We’re going to see him on the news conferences.”
But there is a lot of people that feel that the president should have, or the government should have, had some sort of plan in place. I mean, it was never a matter of if a pandemic was going to hit the U.S. It’s always a question of when, because this should have been planned for.
I mean, this is just me opining here, but there should have been a big 5,000-page book that was the plan for anything like this ever hitting the U.S. And I think that’s where people have a negative view of what went on and the fact that there’s 50 governors and they all seem to be a bit disconnected.
John Ubaldi: There was a plan. I think the problem is we had SARS, we had H1N1. I don’t think they anticipated it was ever going to get to this level, where you had this massive virus that swept the world and hit every part of the United States.
Glynn Cosker: But perhaps they should have had.
John Ubaldi: Oh, they should have. They definitely should have, but I think this is something when they do after-action reports is they need to focus on: What can we do at the national level? What can we do at the state level? And then the other problem is, you have dueling, competing medical authorities. We have every epidemiologist and the like.
Now, the one thing South Korea did that was effective is, and they have a different system of government, too, it’s a democracy. But they have more trust in their national government than we do here. We always look at the federal government with a wary eye, but they had trust in their national health system to prevent the right word. Here, you had the CDC, you had another federal health agency, then you have every doctor. You turn on the cable news channel, and everybody was throwing stuff out. You didn’t know who to believe. And then you throw in the political ramifications on that, it left people confused, and even I was confused of who’s telling what.
Glynn Cosker: When you compare the U.S., of course, to countries like you’ve mentioned, like Taiwan and Korea, and most of Europe, we don’t have a parliamentary system. We don’t have a social democrat kind of democracy here. We don’t have those kind of things, so when you’re in Europe or Korea or Taiwan, yeah, when the authorities tell you to do something, you do it.
And I’ve been to a couple of jurisdictions since this outbreak occurred, and I live in New England, so I’ve got Massachusetts. I live in New Hampshire. I’m 20 minutes from the Massachusetts border to my south, and I’m 20 minutes from the Maine border to the east. So, I go to Maine occasionally, and I go to Massachusetts a lot. And I can only talk in terms of what I do in each state, and I visit a lot of hockey rinks, because my son plays travel hockey, and there’s still practices, believe it or not.
But the point is that you go to these rinks in Massachusetts, and everybody, and I mean everybody, has a face mask on. The coaches on the ice have a face mask on. And of course I had to have one, and all of the other parents and spectators and such.
And then you go to a rink in New Hampshire, and maybe one in 10 people. And both rinks have the sign on the door which says, “You must wear a mask to enter this facility.” I’m not putting down my home state by any means, but what I’m saying is that there is just a lack of uniformity in-
John Ubaldi: Correct.
Glynn Cosker:… upholding the regulations from state to state, and that’s not going to ever occur in places like the Netherlands and France and the United Kingdom and Korea, et cetera. So, I think that was part of the problem.
John Ubaldi: I would agree.
Glynn Cosker: Americans love their freedom, and of course, I do. We all do. We should. But this has sort of opened the book on how we just don’t know quite what to do when somebody tells you, “You have to stay in your house and put something on your face when you are in public.” It has some deep-rooted problems for certain people.
I mean, what do you think about that side of it?
John Ubaldi: I would agree with you. I live here in Florida and Florida has a large elderly population. They followed the CDC guidelines to a point. They didn’t put anybody into the nursing homes who had coronavirus and couldn’t self-isolate them in a very secure area. New York did the opposite.
Now, the point is, like Sweden, some people do a comparison to Sweden. Sweden did a lockdown-lite. They looked at who are the most vulnerable of their population? The elderly, some of the young, those who have a pre-existing condition, so they had them isolated and be careful, started to wear masks and stuff like that. But you’re absolutely correct. I mean, now, I have to go into any building, you got to wear a mask, but before, it wasn’t the case.
Glynn Cosker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John Ubaldi: So, I think you’re right. There’s no uniformity among states, and then there’s no uniformity about who do you believe? Do we just strictly believe the CDC and the national … I can’t think of the agency, the National Health Agency, or whatever it was called.
Glynn Cosker: The World Health Organization?
John Ubaldi: No, it wasn’t the World Health. There’s a national health organization here, but I can’t think of the name. It went by the World Health Organization, and they made mistakes early on in the pandemic, so who do you believe?
Glynn Cosker: Well, here’s an interesting thing. The University of Washington, they made headlines back in, I think it was March, when they came out with these projections of what might be happening by August, early August.
And I remember the press conference was quite muted. It was concerning. They had projected that there would be between 120,000 and 200,000 deaths by August 1st, if I remember correctly, and this was late March, early April, that they were predicting this, when the deaths at that point were maybe 20,000 or something like that. So, they projected that by August 1st, we’d have between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths, and they got it spot on.
John Ubaldi: They did.
Glynn Cosker: Okay. They got it not exactly right, but darn close.
John Ubaldi: Well, you’re never going to be absolutely right.
Glynn Cosker: No, but on August, I’m looking now at their website, or a different website, which has the amount of fatalities, and August 1st, 153,000 plus. So, they were very accurate.
Now, this same group is projecting that by December 1st, and this is the University of Washington, their current projection for December 1st is a total of 315,000 fatalities. And that’s just if we go as we’re going now.
John Ubaldi: Correct.
Glynn Cosker: Where maybe half the people are wearing a mask in some places. Now, the projection, if the country said, “Okay, we’re done all this masks business. We’re going to go live our lives normally,” then their projection is 363,000. And if everybody was to wear a mask, I mean, everybody, then their projection for December 1st is 248,000. None of those numbers are any good.
John Ubaldi: No. They’re not. They’re not good.
Glynn Cosker: Those are all terrible. They’re awful, awful figures, but the point is, they got it right. Will they get it right again? I mean, what do you think the Fall is going to look like?
John Ubaldi: That’s what I don’t think anybody can predict, and that goes into the election is, if the coronavirus, which is on its trajectory down now, continues to stay down, that benefits Donald Trump. If the trajectory coming into the cold and flu season, come October, if we see another spike, that’s not going to benefit the president.
And then it’s all coming down to, how fast do we get a vaccination? How fast do we get a cure? Some of these other things. So, I think they’re close, but I don’t know if that’s months away. Dr. Fauci said he’ll probably have a vaccine by the end of the year, but we’ll have to see. I know they put everything on warp drive, so we’ll have to see how that plays out.
Glynn Cosker: Well, Vladimir Putin said he’s already got the vaccine, and trying it out on various people, so-
John Ubaldi: Yeah. I can trust the Russians to come up with something.
Glynn Cosker: Yeah, I’m not sure I’d want to be the guinea pig.
John Ubaldi: No.
Glynn Cosker: Seeing as though most vaccinations, or vaccines, take, what, two or three years to actually make it to the population?
John Ubaldi: Look at AIDS.
Glynn Cosker: Yeah. The HIV vaccine is still not around.
John Ubaldi: No. We have medication to mitigate it so you can have a normal life, but we still don’t have a cure for that.
Glynn Cosker: No. That’s true, and that’s true of many illnesses. But I don’t see a viable vaccine coming in before the end of the year. I don’t see that happening in the U.S.
John Ubaldi: But, Glynn, here’s another point that you have to talk about is, yeah, let’s say they do get a vaccine, let’s say, tomorrow. Only 30% of the population in the United States takes the flu vaccinations. We had this big issue for a number of years about when to vaccinate kids. I don’t want to vaccinate my kids.
Do we play that? Do we mandate that everybody take a vaccination in this country? You talk about individual liberties. I can see the hackles go up on that one.
Glynn Cosker: Oh, they definitely would, and there’s no way that it could be mandated. It would be an optional thing. And you raise a very, very good point about the flu. 30% of people, that’s not good enough. It should be 100%, really.
John Ubaldi: Correct.
Glynn Cosker: But it’s never going to be 100%.
John Ubaldi: No, it’s not.
Glynn Cosker:… of people getting the flu shot. And what’s going to happen, perhaps, in the fall, into the winter, and into 2021, is the flu season’s not going to go anywhere.
John Ubaldi: No, it’s not.
Glynn Cosker: The bad thing about the flu is if you get the flu, you’re automatically predisposed to having a really bad situation if you get COVID-19. Because if you look at the stats that the CDC just released earlier this week, a great deal of the fatalities in the U.S. and around the world, the people had influenza or respiratory disease or an underlying condition-
John Ubaldi: Correct.
Glynn Cosker:… and if they’re having the flu in April, May, and June, then when it’s not flu season and they’re dying of COVID, then when it is flu season and we get about 40 to 50,000 deaths a year, a season, just from the flu.
Now, when you factor in the coronavirus, I can see why the University of Washington has come up with their projection, and I hope that something changes between now and December 1st, because the idea of this thing causing over 300,000 deaths in one year? I mean, when you think about how many people died in the various wars and such, it’s astronomical. It’s just hard to even come to terms with.
John Ubaldi: Well, if the projection is correct from the University of Washington, the United States lost 416,000 during World War II. It looks like their projection, we could be up close to that number.
Glynn Cosker: We’re going to exceed that number unless, I mean, this just goes through December 1st. We’re not talking about January, February, and March of next year, so I hope that we don’t get to half a million, but the University of Washington not only has the U.S. projections, but it has other countries. Now, the UK, now you got to remember, the United Kingdom, I think the population is at 65 to 70 million, something like that, and those people fit in a country the size of Oregon. And so, the amount of people per square mile in the UK is considerably more than it is in the U.S. —
John Ubaldi: Correct.
Glynn Cosker:… and yet, at the beginning, the curve went up, so by August 1st 56,000 plus deaths. 56,000. University of Washington has them at 60,000, so an additional 4,000 from August to December 1st.
So, the UK either did something right, or the U.S. did something wrong, or is doing something wrong, or, like you said earlier, well, different stats for different folks, right? Who knows who’s right and who’s wrong?
John Ubaldi: I think there’s a combination of things. I think some things the United States did right. Some things they did wrong. Some things they just more stumbled into it, so we’re just going to have to see how this plays out, but it does play into the presidential election. Depends, if it goes down, it helps the president. If it doesn’t, it helps Joe Biden.
I think the one positive thing that came out of it that I think most people didn’t realize is one of the questions that I’ve always asked people, at least to discuss, is we are now realizing that we had too much of our medical supply outsourced into China. Our pharmaceutical industry, 80% of all the medicines that we consume, even our generic medicine like vitamin C, comes from China. Early on in this when we had our primary protective equipment always outsourced into China, so we’re starting to see that, how that impacts trade. So, that’s starting to come back and create jobs here, so that’s something that I think most people didn’t realize.
Glynn Cosker: There are reports that are surfacing from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policies showing that the cases are, in fact, starting to creep up again in Europe. And we talked about Europe earlier, so what do you think is causing an uptick there?
John Ubaldi: Well, some of the reports that I’ve seen, it’s almost like what caused the uptick in the United States, is people were tired of being in lockdown. They wanted to get out, so I think that’s causing the rise in some of that.
We’ll have to see as the months or the weeks go on to get more data to see, is that the case? Because now we’re going back to school. I’m sure they’re going back to school in Europe, so they’re having to face these kind of dilemmas.
I think people were just tired, because you can’t go anywhere. Nothing was really open. Then when they finally started to open, everybody wanted to get out. And me being down here in Florida, which is quite warm, people wanted to go to the beaches.
Glynn Cosker: Yes.
John Ubaldi: And then you’ve got the amusement parks. I think that’s some of the early signs. We’ll have to see what the data shows as the weeks move on.
Glynn Cosker: Right. And the coming months are going to be the most important ones —
John Ubaldi: Correct.
Glynn Cosker:… to keep an eye on. Traditionally, October is the beginning of the flu season, or November, and most people are encouraged to get their flu shots in October. So, we’ll see if there’s an uptick in the percentage of people who get their flu shots, because like I said earlier, I think it’s going to be a huge factor as to how many people are affected by COVID.
John Ubaldi: And then we got to look at our vulnerable population. I had an elderly father before he passed away at 92, and my mom passed away at 70, so they were always getting their flu shot when the flu season, but maybe we got to make sure we’re making sure they’re taking care of.
Those who go into nursing homes, make sure they’re taking care of, so we don’t replicate what happened early on in this pandemic, where we sent people with the coronavirus in … such as like in New York, sent them into the nursing home and they said, “You can self-isolate there,” except you put a partition there. That’s not quite self-isolating there.
Glynn Cosker: Right. And I think from what I know in other parts of the world, the self-isolation was very much adhered to. People were doing it.
John Ubaldi: Correct.
Glynn Cosker: It meant staying home and not going out for anything, really. And of course, as you know, the reason for self-isolating is that you might be a carrier. You might have it, because there’s only a certain percentage of people that have even one symptom, right?
There’s a percentage of people who have all of the symptoms and progressively get worse, and there are people who are asymptomatic, walking around, and passing on the disease. And so that’s the reason why, one of the reasons why self-isolation is so important. Of course, the other one is, if you do have symptoms, then it’s a no-brainer. You have to stay away from everything.
John Ubaldi: Well, my younger brother and his wife, he had the coronavirus and he self-isolated. He had, I think, it was 10 days or 14 days, and he had just more or less mild flu symptoms, but it affects people differently.
I had another friend, she’s studying to be a nurse, he had the coronavirus. So it affects people differently. Knowing we’re going into the cold and flu season within a month or so, so we need to start planning for that. How is that going to look?
Glynn Cosker: But worst-case scenario, if that was to happen, can the president then do what he’s threatened to do before, and then just sort of, “This is me now. I’m taking sole responsibility for this thing,” you know? “I’m going to step in and I’m going to do executive order after executive order.” Does he have the power to do that?
John Ubaldi: He does, when it comes to public safety, but public safety is a very dubious term. It’s just like in our history, we had President Eisenhower, Johnson, Kennedy, and I think even George Bush Sr. used federal troops. This was obviously the riots in 1992, with President Bush Sr. Eisenhower, I think Kennedy, they used the troops to enforce civil rights laws down in the South. And Johnson used it for the 1967 Detroit riots. They can do that, but public safety is a very dubious thing in this highly partisan environment.
Glynn Cosker: This is unprecedented. So, when you’re talking about public safety, you’re talking about either it’s the president saying, “Look, it’s me. I do something, or this many people are at risk. The safety of the public is at risk.” That’s the way he would play it? Is that what you’re saying?
John Ubaldi: That’s what I’m saying. I think that’s what he would play. It’s kind of what he’s doing, kind of threatening with the riots going on across the country. So, it’s just the way our system works. It’s great when it comes to economic issues, it’s better the way our system is than Europe, but when it comes to a pandemic, sometimes our system may not be the best, the way it’s structured.
And then we also, over the years, our institutions have been weakened through various reasons, various methods, so people don’t trust our government like we once did. Like when the last pandemic, right after World War I, we still had trust in our government. After Vietnam and Watergate, the trust has dropped, and it’s even worse now.
Glynn Cosker: John, it’s been a pleasure to speak to you today. I’m sure I’ll have you as a guest on a future podcast, but until then, thank you so much for joining us, and stay safe.
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