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Failure to lead on COVID-19: what went wrong with the United States?

Spyros Schismenos (School of Social Sciences, Humanitarian and Development Research Initiative (HADRI), Western Sydney University, Sydney, Australia) (UNESCO Chair on Conservation and Ecotourism of Riparian and Deltaic Ecosystems, International Hellenic University, Drama, Greece)
Antoine A. Smith (My Safety Approved, Los Angeles, California, USA) (UNESCO Chair on Conservation and Ecotourism of Riparian and Deltaic Ecosystems, International Hellenic University, Drama, Greece)
Garry J. Stevens (School of Social Sciences, Humanitarian and Development Research Initiative (HADRI), Western Sydney University, Sydney, Australia)
Dimitrios Emmanouloudis (Department of Forestry and Natural Environment, International Hellenic University, Drama, Greece) (UNESCO Chair on Conservation and Ecotourism of Riparian and Deltaic Ecosystems, International Hellenic University, Drama, Greece)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 17 November 2020

Issue publication date: 4 February 2021

1570

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to review the federal decisions to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response in the United States and consider the different approaches employed by the California state government.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper focuses on COVID-19-related issues, responses and implications in federal countries, and largely draws comparisons between the Trump Administration and California state.

Findings

The slow response of the federal government could have been avoided, had there been a current and tested national plan. The defunding of the Office of Pandemics and Emerging Threats, and the lack of coordination between the Trump Administration and the states have contributed to its ranking as the country with the highest COVID-19 infection and fatality rates worldwide. California state oversaw an effective initial pandemic response, which was ultimately undermined by a lack of national support and the refusal of some citizens to comply with the restrictions.

Research limitations/implications

The paper draws upon open-source information published on government websites and news media.

Originality/value

As the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is currently ongoing, information about the federal governance and state response is still evolving. The authors examine California as a state exemplar, since it is the largest such jurisdiction by populace and the first state to issue statewide mandatory lockdown measures. This comparison offers insights as to the decisive initiatives that could have occurred at the federal level. The “lessons learned” highlight the critical role of crisis leadership in societal and public health preparedness for future pandemic events.

Keywords

Citation

Schismenos, S., Smith, A.A., Stevens, G.J. and Emmanouloudis, D. (2021), "Failure to lead on COVID-19: what went wrong with the United States?", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp. 39-53. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJPL-08-2020-0079

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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