Every day I read about the state of the coronavirus pandemic in the USA, and every day my lack of faith in the US government grows even larger. My mother said she worries about us here in Mongolia, and wants us to waste no time in leaving and staying with them if things start to get bad here. While that is one of our contingency plans, the strange thing is that at this point we seem to be FAR better off here than in the USA… especially Washington state where my mother lives.

On the face of it, living in Mongolia has the following risks in the face of a coronavirus outbreak:

1) The health care infrastructure has improved over the years but is still substantially behind the US standard of health care (the standard for those Americans with good insurance anyway)

2) The average Mongolian does not have a high level of awareness about the spread of infectious disease or the dynamics of an outbreak. The average American may not know much about the dynamics of a pandemic, but they are a lot more germ-conscious (some might say germ-phobic) in general.

3) The Mongolian government does not have anywhere close to the resources the US has to respond to an outbreak like this.

4) Proximity to and sharing a border with China.

So as of March 9th, nine countries (including heavyweights like Germany, Italy, France, & the US) have more than 500 reported cases and in most of these nations the cases are growing exponentially. Yet despite its disadvantages, Mongolia has none. Why is that?

What the Mongolian Government Did

It is my opinion that the PRIMARY reason for this is that Mongolia’s government took it very seriously from the start and acted quickly. Before the end of January, Mongolia had stopped all regular flights to & from China and closed the China land border to car & pedestrian traffic, as well as closing allĀ  schools, universities, kindergartens, movie theaters, video arcades, and other large public entertainment venues. In the weeks that followed, they stopped all flights for South Korea, Japan, and Thailand, and placed special restrictions on those who’d been in any of those countries as well as Italy or Iran in the past 2 weeks (in those cases, foreign travelers are refused entry and Mongolians are allowed in but have a mandatory 2-week quarantine). They’ve also extended the existing school & public entertainment venue closures, instituted operating hour restrictions on restaurants & bars, and required face masks for anyone entering government buildings (many businesses have adopted that rule too).

The government here also appears to be acting quickly on the suspected cases that have popped up over the past several weeks. My wife works at one of the local private hospitals, and last month one of the patients they admitted the previous day had developed a fever, had been in South Korea recently, and tested negative for two of the common influenza strains. The government immediately closed the hospital to the public, brought the patient and the caregiver to their isolation center, and tracked down anyone in the hospital who may have had contact with them. Thankfully the next morning the tests for coronavirus came back negative and the hospital was soon re-opened.

Now I have to qualify all this in that it is easily possible that a few of Mongolia’s suspected cases actually turned up positive, and the government is keeping it under wraps for political reasons. But whether true or not, it still appears that there has been no sustained outbreak so far. They might be able to hide a few cases, but a community outbreak? Not bloody likely. Mongolia isn’t a technocratic police state like their southern neighbor, and the government here simply doesn’t have the means to pull it off.

What the US Government Did

Now contrast that to the response by the US federal government through January & February? The government and media response in that period is pretty much summed up by, “Oh, it’s a China problem” followed by “it’s nothing compared to the seasonal flu”, “don’t worry we have it all under control”, and “wearing masks doesn’t help anyway”. All of which turned out to be complete and utter horse****. And to top it off, they’ve been instituting such restrictive criteria to qualify for testing that many cases are likely going unreported. And while I know the screw-up with their initial batch of testing kits left them unusable, that doesn’t explain why they didn’t source some from Japan or elsewhere in the meantime? If a minor country (in the economic & geopolitical sense) like Mongolia could get their hands on testing kits from Japan, why couldn’t the US?

So this is how the government of the richest nation in the world has been handling the most important health crisis of the past decade, if not the past century? And as a result more lives will be lost and more damage will be done to the economy? I know many are tempted to blame Trump for all of it, and apart from shutting down US-China flights I would agree he’s handled this terribly so far. But while I think he deserves some blame, I honestly see the dysfunction as more systemic. In general, politicians and government officials from the top down tend to be too entwined with corporate interests or too interested in their re-election or avoiding controversy to do anything that would cause a burp in the local economy. It appears some of the European governments have shown almost as much ineptitude and indecision in the run-up to this pandemic, and it’s my opinion that it’s because they share the same lack of spine necessary to risk short-term impacts to their economies.

Worse Than a Clown-Show

Now in all fairness, I have to say that, in most things, Mongolia’s government is a total clown-show. There’s no shortage of Parliament members wetting their beak in crooked deals, embezzlement by officials, and other shady nonsense. This is NOT the shining example of a government by and for the people. Yet this questionable government of an economically tiny country is absolutely DUNKING on the United States. It is a f***ing embarrassment. If Mongolia’s government is a clown-show, then the US government is the monkey at the zoo that flings its poo at the visitors.

Where To Go From Here?

As fun as it is to criticize, it would be lame to not offer some solutions or ideas on what to do going forward. Not that I expect anyone in power would have me anywhere on their radar, but just maybe one of these suggestions will somehow make it’s way to decision makers in some county, state, or D.C. office:

1) Set up drive-thru testing areas (like the ones they have in South Korea) for the public in all the major affected areas as well as all large metro areas not yet affected. Many like me are not at high risk of serious hospitalization or death from the virus, but we can still spread it to others who ARE more vulnerable. Help us get the information we need to protect our friends and loved ones. If the gov’t stocks of testing kits are insufficient, order more from Japan or wherever else they’re available. Let’s not be snobbish about “Made in America” for this sort of thing.

2) Use some of that money in the recently-passed coronavirus emergency spending bill to cover ALL costs of testing and treatment related to the coronavirus pandemic. How many people are afraid to get tested or treated because of lack of insurance or money? I’m not in favor of socialized medicine as a permanent system, but there’s a place for government funds when it comes to public health emergencies. It’s one of the few arguments for having a central government authority that I agree have some merit.

3) Send calls out for appropriately-located hotels and resorts to house infected individuals that need to be isolated but aren’t sick enough to need hospital care. The secondary economic effects of this pandemic are going to hit the hospitality industry HARD, and renting out their facilities to help in this crisis can help them avoid bankruptcy. Dave Collum on Twitter suggested (with a bit of irony) using cruise ships for this. Despite the irony, it might not be the worst idea. Cruise lines are probably going to get hit just as hard as hotels (if not harder), and you gotta admit it’s more of a challenge for people to sneak out of a quarantined cruise ship. Even one that’s docked.

4) Stop this dishonest talking point that “masks aren’t helpful for the public”. I strongly suspect what they REALLY mean is “we screwed up and didn’t source and stockpile enough masks, even WITH several weeks of warning coming from China”. Just admit that for now there’s only enough for medical professionals, but producers are working to make more available to the public in the near future. You say too many people don’t know how to properly wear or handle masks? Well then TEACH them… it takes like two friggin’ minutes (like this instructional video here). While N95 masks are intended to protect the wearer to some degree, the truth about surgical masks is that they’re more about protecting others from YOUR germs than protecting you from THEIRS. So there IS value in having a majority of the population wearing surgical masks when out of the house. A community effort here can make a difference.

5) Implement REAL travel restrictions for Italy, South Korea, and anywhere else that has a very large OR uncontrolled outbreak. None of this ‘travel advisory’ crap. I’m talking _”if you’ve been to any of these places in the past 14 days you will go into mandatory quarantine for 2 weeks or will NOT enter the country”_. We do this for those who’ve been in China, and to not do it for other areas hit hard it is not only hypocritical but unnecessarily dangerous.

Screw-ups or not, this is not the end of the world. The recent mistakes have cost the US and other countries valuable time in stemming the spread of this pandemic, but there are still things we can do going forward. If you want to be better informed, Dr. Chris Martenson at Peak Prosperity has been giving excellent videos and articles that you can find here or on YouTube. The facts & information he provides can be sobering, but he does an excellent job citing sources and stating which information is proven and which is conjecture.

In the meantime, let’s hope the US government gets its act together and catches up to Mongolia’s level of minimal competence. The government decision-makers better hope so too. Because if they don’t, they might just find themselves getting replaced with something new…