Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

America spent the spring building a bridge to August, spending trillions and shutting down major parts of society. The expanse was to be a bent coronavirus curve, and the other side some semblance of normal, where kids would go to school and their parents to work.

The bottom line: We blew it, building a pier instead.

There will be books written about America's lost five months of 2020, but here's what we know:

We blew testing. President Trump regularly brags and complains about the number of COVID-19 tests conducted in the U.S., but America hasn't built the infrastructure necessary to process and trace the results.

  • Quest Diagnostics says its average turnaround time for a COVID-19 test has lengthened to "seven or more days" — thus decreasing the chance that asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic carriers will self-quarantine.
  • The testing delays also make it harder for public health officials to understand current conditions, let alone implement effective contact tracing.
  • Speaking of contact tracing, it remains a haphazard and uncoordinated process in many parts of the country.

We blew schools. Congress allocated $150 billion for state and local governments as part of the CARES Act, but that was aimed at maintaining status quo services in the face of plummeting tax revenue.

There was no money earmarked for schools to buy new safety equipment, nor to hire additional teachers who might be needed to staff smaller class sizes and hybrid learning days.

  • U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was not among the 27 officials included in the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and rarely appeared at Task Force press conferences.
  • The administration insists that schools should reopen this fall because kids are less likely to get very sick from the virus, but it has not yet offered detailed plans to protect older teachers, at-risk family members, or students with pre-existing respiratory or immune conditions.
  • Silicon Valley provided some free services to schools, but there was no coordinated effort to create a streamlined virtual learning platform. There also continue to be millions of schoolkids without access to broadband and/or Internet-connected devices.

We blew economics. The CARES Act was bold and bipartisan, a massive stimulus to meet the moment.

  • It's running out, without an extension plan not yet in place.
  • Expanded unemployment benefits expire in days. Many small businesses have already exhausted their Paycheck Protection Program loans, including some that reopened but have been forced to close again.
  • There has been no national effort to pause residential or commercial evictions, nor to give landlords breathing room on their mortgage payments.

We blew public health. There's obviously a lot here, but just stick with face masks. Had we all been directed to wear them in March — and done so, even makeshift ones while manufacturing ramped up — you might not be reading this post.

We blew goodwill. Millions of Americans sheltered in place, pausing their social lives for the common good.

  • But many millions of other Americans didn't. Some were essential workers. Some were deemed essential workers but really weren't. Some just didn't care, or didn't believe the threat. Some ultimately decided that protesting centuries of racial injustice was a worthy trade-off.
  • All of this was complicated by mixed messages from federal and state leaders. Top of that list was President Trump, who claimed to adopt a wartime footing without clearly asking Americans to make sacrifices necessary to defeat the enemy.
  • Five months later, many of those who followed the "rules" are furious at what they perceive to be the selfishness of others.

The bottom line: America has gotten many things right since March, including the development of more effective hospital treatments for COVID-19 patients.

  • But we're hitting daily infection records, daily deaths hover around 900, and many ICUs reports more patients than beds. It didn't have to be this way.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say DeVos did appear at least once at a coronavirus press conference.

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