Philanthropist Melinda Gates on Thursday sharply criticized the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak, telling Yahoo Finance that the country is “lacking leadership at the federal level” and as a result has endured unnecessary deaths and economic pain.
“It's highly distressing and disappointing,” says Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which she said has donated $300 million to organizations involved in the coronavirus response.
“To have 50 state-grown solutions is inefficient, it makes no sense, and it's costing people their lives,” she adds.
President Donald Trump said on Tuesday “there’ll be more death” as states lift stay-at-home measures but has urged a path toward reopening the economy in order to blunt job loss and other damaging effects caused by the mandates.
The Trump administration has drawn criticism for what some consider a failure to adequately address the coronavirus outbreak in its early stages. Trump has repeatedly said “nobody” could have foreseen the pandemic though he reportedly received dire warnings as early as February.
“The lack of action is really causing harm and hurt unnecessarily in this country,” Gates says. “I'm incredibly disappointed to see that.”
The White House recently declined to take up guidelines written by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for how schools, restaurants, and other institutions can safely reopen, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.
The Trump administration did release a set of conditions for coronavirus containment that it recommends states meet before they reopen, including a 14-day downward trajectory in new cases or positive test rates. However, many states that remain short of that benchmark have started to reopen or will do it soon, among them Kentucky, Ohio, and Utah, the AP reported on Thursday.
On Friday, the monthly jobs report showed the U.S. economy cut 20.5 million payrolls in April, and the unemployment rate jumped to 14.7%.
The severity of economic pain is a direct result of inaction from the federal government, Gates said.
“It is impacting families now, because if we had a good testing and tracing system like Germany has, we would have started to reopen slowly more places in the economy, people wouldn't be struggling so much to put a meal on their table,” says Gates, who released a book last year entitled “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.”
‘Difficult tension’ faced by parents at home
She said the U.S. must bolster its benefits for paid sick, medical, and family leave in order to mitigate some of the economic pain and reopen the economy, since some workers will return to their jobs while others will need to remain home to care for sick family members or children educated remotely.
Speaking with Yahoo Finance, she called on Congress to improve the paid sick and family leave expansion passed in March, which excluded many companies from the benefits requirements.
“Congress made a first step that is in one of the stimulus packages, they really did put in sick days and paid leave,” she says. “The problem is, it doesn't go far enough.”
Moreover, she advocated for a nationwide paid medical and family leave plan — a proposal backed in part by both parties, though they differ sharply on the details.
The Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled House remain divided over an additional stimulus measure, while President Donald Trump has sought likely-polarizing tax cuts to be included in the bill, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, Gates said she is optimistic that Congress will enact paid medical and family leave.
“Congress is hearing about this difficult tension moms and dads — but particularly moms — are facing at home,” she says.
Advocacy groups are “starting to see movement,” she adds.