7 Pandemic Differences Between the U.S. and Europe

Why Europe is doing a much better job handling Covid-19

Andy Slavitt
Medium Coronavirus Blog
5 min readNov 23, 2020


Photo by Eduardo Rodriguez on Unsplash

I was doing an interview with the Star Tribune in October when I was asked a tough question: “Andy, you say the U.S. can be down to near zero cases in six weeks like other countries in the world.”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Doesn’t Europe’s spike prove you wrong?”

“No. They’re going to show us how again.” I added that these waves may be inevitable, but in the meantime — from May to October, we lost four times the lives they did. I said fighting a new wave from zero is like battling a wild dog. Starting from where we were was like fighting off a pack of dogs. You use different weapons. From zero you can test, contact trace, and isolate. From where we sit, you have two choices: retreat or mass death.

What I didn’t say, but should have thought to say, is that when the time came for a second wave, European countries could be counted on to do the tough, effective thing. Our country cannot.

For one — we aren’t fighting this as a country. We’re fighting a global phenomenon provincially. We’re chasing digital with analog.

Many of our governors don’t have the political courage. A governor called me this week to legit brag that he did something I called and begged him to do eight weeks ago. Because they are taking so much shit. From their legislatures. And the public. And they have zero Fed support.

Some governors are doing it right despite everything. Here are two states, close to the same size:

I spoke to the head of one of the national European health systems this week. There are seven key differences between what’s happening stateside and what’s happening in Europe.

  1. Politics: I asked this person (not a health minister but chair of a country’s national system — we have no equivalent) how it was going. The answer: terribly. People are exhausted. Disappointed to be back at this. A little less compliant. “Is wearing masks a political statement?” I asked. He thought I had lost my mind. How is that a political statement? Some don’t because they don’t believe it works. Many do but complain. But it’s not a political statement. How could it be, he wanted to know. I told him here, it’s not a public health argument, but a statement of what kind of American you are; it’s identity. “Wow. I had heard that,” he told me. “That sounds impossible. We don’t have that problem.” That’s difference number one.
  2. Financial support: In Germany, bar owners are paid to stay closed. Artists are paid a fee. Social support is much better everywhere. These aren’t all wealthy countries. Much less so than the U.S. “We’re all in this together and we have your backs” is the general message in Europe. Ours is “Hey, good luck.” And “P.S. You’re sick, you work. Dead or alive, we’re collecting debts: rent, college loans, etc., so tick-fucking-tock.”
  3. Government compact: When it comes time for the government to ask people to sacrifice, people trust more and say yes. Probably because the government shows it cares. Possibly because 30% of the population isn’t fantasizing in the basement about a coup/revolution. So when the government says “Stay home unless…” people don’t love it. But they get it. And when cases start to rise, hospitals start to fill, people listen, and cases can drop quickly. But in the U.S… we read contra arguments about how hospitals have plenty of capacity. In the U.S. there are people who call you alarmist for suggesting cases and deaths should be avoided. Those assholes exist all over the world. But the difference from what I can see is our politicians are scared of them. Bow to them. Defer to them.
  4. Honesty: CDC officials are replaced about as fast as election officials for the sin of honesty. I have a record of a Trump propaganda official banning people from speaking to the media for using the phrase “but things could change” at the end of presenting a rosy scenario.
  5. Cohesion: European politicians are asking citizens to do it for “one another.”
  6. Coordination: Not only are the European counties supporting their people, but the EU is providing stimulus and relief. I know we have a “federalist” system. But they’re not even a country! Why coordinate policies and help one another? Meanwhile I live next to North and South Dakovid and I expect refugees to start spilling over the border any time now. I realize getting elected governor of South Dakota doesn’t sound like a lot. But turns out, it’s an easy way as any to kill people
  7. Budget garbage: I’ve been hearing for 40 years that the greatest threat to our country is THE BUDGET DEFICIT. And high taxes could kill us. And too small a military. So we must stop SPENDING SO MUCH MONEY DOMESTICALLY! Turns out? No. Not our biggest threat after all. Lo and behold massive corporate and estate tax cuts couldn’t prevent the pandemic. But cutting 55,000 public health workers was a problem. Cutting our strategic stockpile of PPE, which the GOPAnon Congress did, and not giving people health care — BIGGER PROBLEM. And NOW — we had to spend $3 trillion in a matter of months because of everything we didn’t do. See in Europe they have health care and a public health care system. And somehow we let people demonize it. Rich people pay taxes there.

A pandemic shines a light on what kind of choices we’ve made and are still making. And even in a pandemic the things we are unwilling to change. We can do this in less than six weeks any time we want.

(This is pulled and lightly edited from my November 21 Twitter thread.)