I love America. I really do.
For all its flaws (and there are many), it is still one of the greatest countries in the world.
What happens in America usually doesn’t stay in America, given the tremendous global influence the nation exerts in almost every field, ranging from science and technology to arts and entertainment.
As someone who lived there for four years, and has returned regularly, I admire America’s sense of national pride and the seemingly indestructible optimism of its people.
So, America, I say this a friend. One of your best.
Take the virus seriously. Please!
In my nearly three weeks on the ground in the US covering the election, I got the impression way too many Americans were far too relaxed about COVID-19 and the massive public health tsunami about to wash across the country.
I would get what I need, then get away from people.(ABC News: Jenny Magee)
Case numbers have been growing exponentially.
On Friday, the US recorded 180,000 new infections.
That was 30,000 more than the previous day, and 76 per cent higher than a fortnight ago.
There were nearly 1,400 deaths.
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It was the 11th day in a row the country reported more than 100,000 daily cases.
At this rate, the country is on track to exceed 200,000 daily cases well before Christmas.
Nearly 245,000 Americans have died from the virus.
Let those numbers sink in for just a moment.
America never really took it seriously
For all the challenges we have faced trying to contain the virus, Australia has never come close to this level of impending national disaster.
If we were on the same trajectory as America, more than 100 Australians would be dying every day of the virus.
We are in a very different place because we took the virus seriously very early on.
It is something America has never really done and, even in the face of this mounting threat, is still not.
From the start, Donald Trump was dismissive of the virus, repeatedly declaring it would disappear “like a miracle”.
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume. Donald Trump says he believes coronavirus will ‘disappear’
As recently as the final days of the election campaign, he was declaring America was “rounding the corner” in its battle against the virus and complaining the “fake news” media was over-reporting COVID-19.
Now, I could easily spend the rest of this piece dissecting the President’s many failures on coronavirus. But what is more concerning is how his supporters have taken their cues from Mr Trump when it comes to critical personal health decisions.
Let us not forget that more than 73 million Americans voted for him.
That’s 73 million Americans who implicitly endorsed the President regularly ridiculing people for wearing masks.
Many Trump rallies were heaving with maskless supporters crammed up against each other.
Masks have been rare in many part of the US.(Reuters: Leah Millis)
It wasn’t just the rallies where this irresponsibility played out.
On the weekend before the election, I visited a solidly Republican area of Pennsylvania centred around the historic town of Gettysburg. Masks were pretty sparse there too.
Visiting the relatively crowded local Republican Party campaign office, I counted only one volunteer sporting a mask.
None of the people there seemed too worried about how wildly infectious the disease was.
My cameraman colleague Toby and I got what we needed, then cleared out as soon as we could.
Read more about coronavirus:When masks became political
It is truly diabolical that, for many Americans, choosing whether or not to wear a mask has become a political statement, and nothing to do with virus prevention.
Calls by top doctors to make masks compulsory are dismissed as an outrageous assault on personal liberty.
In heavily Democratic Washington DC, where mask-wearing is pretty much universal, the biggest threat comes from pandemic fatigue.
People are, understandably, over the virus and want to start living again. There is a similar sentiment in many other parts of America.
During my stay in DC, I often walked past outdoor restaurants with way-too-closely-packed diners; masks seemingly dispatched for the duration of the evening.
It was unseasonably warm and perhaps people just wanted to forget about the virus for a night.
Outdoor dining has become a bit of a free-for-all.(Reuters: Kevin Lamarque)
As we know, the virus never rests.
It is truly worrying that a combination of virus fatigue and American tradition will coalesce next week during Thanksgiving, arguably a much bigger annual event than Christmas for so many Americans.
The country’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, is urging people to reconsider their Thanksgiving dinners, especially if they involve elderly residents.
He is deeply fearful about the prospect of tens of millions of superspreader events playing out at family gatherings across the country.
But will everyone listen?
There are even signs that others at the top of American politics also don’t really get the seriousness of what is confronting the country.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, thought it was a good idea to organise a dinner for newly-elected Democratic politicians inside the US Capitol.
Ms Pelosi insisted it was “safe” and “very spaced”.
In the face of a barrage of criticism, the in-person event was cancelled.
There is more pain to come in 2020
In an emotional on-air editorial on Friday night, CNN’s Anderson Cooper summed up why America finds itself in the situation it now does.
He talked about the many Americans who were that night fighting for their lives in often overcrowded intensive care units.
“People who should not be there because we should have worn masks more. All of us, myself included,” he said.
“We should have social distanced more. We should have had leaders who took this seriously in the White House.”
In a little over two months, America will have a leader in the Oval Office who does take the pandemic seriously.
Joe Biden is limited in what he can do for now.(Reuters: Kevin Lamarque)
Joe Biden’s first task as president-elect was setting up a coronavirus task force comprising some of the nation’s most eminent public health experts.
But, until January 20, it is a task force in name only.
The virus has no respect for calendars, and it is about to wreak havoc in its favourite environment as the cold winter forces Americans indoors.
This year has a lot more pain to dish out for the United States.
It did not have to be like this.
What you need to know about coronavirus: