Foreign Policy Priorities:

The emergence of the novel coronavirus disease known as COVID-19 in early 2020 has led to sweeping social and economic changes around the world as governments have grappled with how to contain the pandemic. It has also transformed the 2020 presidential race, highlighting candidates’ approaches to global health and federal leadership, challenging their ability to campaign, and upending the traditional nominating processes. 

The repercussions for the United States have been dire, with millions of confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 140,000 deaths by midsummer. Social-distancing, mask-wearing, and lockdown policies have been unevenly applied across states, and cases are rising once again. By July, the United States had become the worst-performing developed country, while its peers began to return to normal life, leading the European Union and others to largely bar Americans from entering their territories. 

Lockdown measures to keep hospitals from becominging overwhelmed have led to a deepening economic crisis: some experts believe a surge in layoffs could push the unemployment rate to 40 percent, higher than a peak of 25 percent during the Great Depression. Policymakers responded with a $2 trillion stimulus bill that gave direct cash payments to most Americans, expanded unemployment benefits, and offered hundreds of billions of dollars worth of bailouts to major industries.The Federal Reserve has joined central banks worldwide in pumping trillions of dollars into financial markets. Worse, without a cure, vaccine, or effective containment policies, economic disruptions will likely continue indefinitely, with unforeseeable consequences and costs to the U.S. treasury.

The crisis, and the disjointed response from Washington, has sparked debate over the country’s pandemic preparedness. Hospitals have struggled with shortages of essentials such as ventilators, beds, and masks as global supply chains for such products—many based in China—have been disrupted. Critics say President Donald J. Trump has undermined systems put in place by his predecessor, Barack Obama, downplayed the severity of the pandemic, failed to marshal a coherent federal response, and pressured states to reopen schools and businesses too soon. Some analysts say the crisis is revealing long-standing vulnerabilities in the U.S. reliance on foreign suppliers for critical materials, which could end up reshaping globalization as we know it. 

The Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, has released his own proposals for defeating the pandemic, containing its economic fallout, and reforming U.S. public health systems, arguing that current measures are falling far short of what is needed.

Both parties, meanwhile, are dealing with a disrupted campaign process, as nominating conventions have been downsized and relocated, crowded indoor events largely ruled out, and voting processes brought into doubt. Amid the unprecedented uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, other shakeups to the process may yet unfold. 

More On Coronavirus


The experiences of dozens of countries offer lessons for U.S. officials as they prepare for the presidential election during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pharmaceuticals and Vaccines

The swift development of effective vaccines against COVID-19 was an unprecedented scientific achievement. But production challenges, vaccine nationalism, and new variants have all presented hurdles.


COVID-19 has confirmed the U.S. and global vulnerabilities that were repeatedly identified in high-level reports, commissions, and intelligence assessments on pandemic threats for nearly two decades …

This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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