Graham Smith

Updated at 10:10 p.m. ET

One month ago today, President Trump declared a national emergency.

In a Rose Garden address, flanked by leaders from giant retailers and medical testing companies, he promised a mobilization of public and private resources to attack the coronavirus.

"We've been working very hard on this. We've made tremendous progress," Trump said. "When you compare what we've done to other areas of the world, it's pretty incredible."

But few of the promises made that day have come to pass.

When a man drives by the strip at Lumley Beach in downtown Freetown at night, he'll probably hear a sharp hiss. That's not an unusual sound in Sierra Leone. People hiss instead of whistling — to get your attention, to call for the bill at a restaurant, to buy a bottle of water on the street.

But the hissing along a stretch of beachfront road at Lumley Beach has a different purpose. It's the sound prostitutes make, and they've perfected the hiss. That's why they're called serpents.

When my NPR colleague Tom Bowman and I visited the southern Afghan district of Arghandab in the fall of 2009, we headed out on patrol with the U.S. Stryker battalion. We soon found ourselves in the middle of a firefight. A U.S. vehicle was blown up and two Americans were killed in an attack that was all too common at the time.