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Life in the Time of COVID-19: Grading the U.S. on its Handling of the COVID -19 Pandemic


With the new school year rapidly approaching, it’s an appropriate time to see what grade people would give the United States on its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of IntelliSurvey’s most recent ‘Life in the Time of COVID-19’ survey, fielded in the US on August 14, 2020 among 1018 adults in the U.S., respondents were asked “What letter grade would you give the United States for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic?” and asked to select from a list of 13 grades that ranged from A+ to F. Responses were combined into 5 letter grades: A, B, C, D, and F (e.g., grades of A+, A, and A- were combined into a grade of A, etc.). As shown in the following chart, among the total sample, the grades were assigned relatively equally,  with approximately one fifth of the sample selecting each of the five letter grades.

What letter grade would you give the United States for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic?

It should be noted that this wave of the survey was not a nationally representative sample, but instead was comprised of roughly equal numbers of respondents from four self-identified groups: White Americans, Black Americans, Asian Americans, and Americans of Hispanic or Latino descent or origin, which better allows for a comparison between each of these groups.

As shown in the chart below, with the exception of a grade of C, differences emerged by ethnicity and/or race in the grades assigned:

  • When compared to Black and Asian respondents, significantly higher percentages of White and Hispanic respondents assigned the US a grade of A.
  • Conversely, Black respondents were significantly more likely to give the US a failing grade for its handling of the pandemic versus White or Hispanic respondents.
  • Significantly higher percentages of White, Asian, and Hispanic respondents gave a grade of B, when compared to Black respondents, while Black and Asian respondents were significantly more likely to give the US a D versus White or Hispanic respondents.
Letter grade assigned to the United States for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic (by race/ethnicity)

It’s been widely reported that Black and Hispanic Americans have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is not surprising that Black respondents in this survey were more likely to give low grades (D or F) to the US for its handling of the pandemic. However, it is somewhat counter-intuitive that Hispanic Americans were more likely to give the US high grades (either A or B).

Reasons for Grade Assigned

After assigning a grade, respondents were asked to explain why they gave the grades they did in an optional question. Some themes emerged from these open-ended explanations, when broken out by grade (note that respondent verbatim comments appear in italics):

A: ‘We’ are doing the best we can, cases have declined, and President Trump/the Federal government acted swiftly.

  • “Because we don’t have that many new cases.”
  • “Doing the best we can to offset China’s attention to hurt the US.”
  • “I think they are doing all they can possibly do to control COVID-19.”
  • “The federal government acted swiftly & tried to get information out as more was learned about the virus, how it spreads and who’s vulnerable.
  • “Donald Trump takes action-gets things done and gets others to do the same. He knows how to motivate and has a lot of people skills.”

B:  The response to the pandemic was good, but could have been better, and there is only so much the Federal government can do—much of it is up to the states and individuals.

  • “A good response but nothing is ever perfect and looking back maybe would react differently.”
  • “Because they have not done terrible, but there is more they could do, such as forgiving some debts for people such as student loans.”
  • “Federal govt can only do so much. Governors making most of decision. And ultimately it depends on actions of people.”
  • “Individual states have done well in some cases but individuals themselves are the problem.”
  • “We got some things right but did not act quite fast enough on some aspects of it.”

C:  President Trump didn’t take the pandemic seriously,  and the government should have acted sooner.

  • “Because they could have been doing more a long time ago.”
  • “Donald Trump could have taken it more seriously sooner. States open up beaches and public places knowing a mass of people will come, after they come and a lot get infected they close the state up and the cycle continues with other states. They should just close things up until everything is safe again, and not immediately open things up.”
  • “I believe that if the government would have done something sooner, everything would be more positive.”
  • “It hasn’t been taken seriously enough. The president does not know what he is doing.”
  • “I think the government didn’t act quick enough, and when they did act, it was like a total shutdown that made everyone panic.”

D:  Compared to other countries, the US has not done well because of the government’s response and also because individuals in the US have acted selfishly.

  • “A lot of people think it is their right not to wear mask or social distance and it is their fault we are not reversing this virus.”
  • “Compared to other countries, we have failed on so many levels. But, that is not shocking to me everything is political these days. There is no sense of community anymore.”
  • “I give it this grade because some people have been handling this pandemic more responsibly than others, which is why Covid-19 and quarantine are still present.”
  • “It is a failure compared with other countries.”
  • “Many Americans are putting their own beliefs over the greater good. We need to admit that there is a problem and we need to do something big to reverse course.”
  • “People are selfish and only care about themselves. Government response so slow and inefficient and ineffective.”

F: President Trump spreads misinformation/downplays the pandemic for political purposes, and does not listen to scientists.

  • “Because trump won’t listen to science”
  • “Because we have a lot of cases, but still the president is down playing it and constantly telling folks untruths about it for political purposes.”
  • “No leadership, lots of misinformation and undermining of medical experts. No unity. The gov’t had since the beginning of 2020 to prepare and we were not. It is possible to have a functioning economy with some good precautions in place but it’s just been a mess. People are left to fend for themselves.”
  • “People are not taking the outbreak seriously because the president repeatedly lies about the outbreak.”
  • “The pandemic crises could be improved if Trump had taken COVID-19 seriously and took early prevention. He also should have done as advised by medical and scientific experts.”
  • “There has been no national plan and we have a president who is downplaying it, refuses to take a leadership role, and advocates treatments that have been rejected by the medical experts.”

We’re All in This Together

As suggested in the explanations for the grades assigned to the US for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals, along with the federal and state governments, play an important role in how the outbreak has been handled in this country.

The official start of autumn in the U.S. begins in approximately one month. Will the US bring up its grade for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic?  On August 12, during an interview with WebMD, Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that it could. As he said, “For your country right now and for the war that we’re in against COVID, I’m asking you to do four simple things. Wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands, and be smart about crowds. You do those four things, it will bring this outbreak down. But if we don’t do that, as I said last April, this could be the worst fall from a public health perspective, we’ve ever had.”

Respondents for this survey were collected via Lucid Marketplace.

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