Well, here we are, in a full-blown public health emergency and the federal government whose job it is to provide the necessary precautions and reassurance is acting as though we are immune from any exposure.
Another in Rhode Island is confirmed to have contracted it.
And in Chicago.
Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated the official number of COVID-19 cases is likely to double almost overnight.
As of this writing, it’s now in New York.
Last week a California woman was rushed to the University of California, Davis Medical Center unable to breathe.
Yet after hospital administrators requested diagnostic testing from the CDC, they were informed the patient did not qualify under federal criteria that stipulated patients must have traveled to China or known to have been in contact with infected individuals.
To make matters worse, a top federal scientist has raised concerns about possible contamination in an Atlanta lab responsible for virus test kits.
Donald Trump has entrusted the national emergency to Vice President Mike Pence, who reinforced Donald Trump Jr.’s conspiracy theory that Democrats hope corona virus “kills millions of people.”
This is more than just a matter of an administration politicizing and woefully unprepared to handle what in normal circumstances could be calmly assuaged with policy, communication, and funding.
Consider the fact that we lack a national healthcare system.
Without one, those who contract anything potentially life threatening are more susceptible to worsening–and infecting others.
Put simply, the absence of a Medicare-for-all-type single-payer healthcare system is in itself a public health emergency.
Let’s look at a recent case in Florida.
Osmel Martinez Azcue, who had been to China, started developing flu-like symptoms after returning to Miami.
So he did what anyone would do: he went to the hospital.
As it turned out, he did not have the dreaded virus, just a garden-variety flu.
As the Herald reported:
“In 2018, President Donald Trump’s administration rolled back Affordable Care Act regulations and allowed so-called ‘junk plans’ in the market. Consumers mistakenly assume that the plans with lower monthly costs will be better than no insurance at all in case of a medical catastrophe, but often the plans aren’t very different from going without insurance altogether.”
Azcue is responsible for $1,400 as long as he produces three years of medical records to prove his flu wasn’t a result of a pre-existing medical condition.
“How can they expect normal citizens to contribute to eliminating the potential risk of person-to-person spread if hospitals are waiting to charge us $3,270 for a simple blood test and a nasal swab?”
Georgetown University professor Sabrina Corlette explained:
“When someone has flu-like symptoms, you want them to to seek medical care. If they have one of these junk plans and they know they might be on the hook for more than they can afford to seek that care, a lot of them just won’t, and that is a public health concern.”
This is exactly what the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka “Obamacare”) was intended to prevent.
Global health expert Jonathan D. Quick, of Duke University, whose book The End of Epidemics: The Looming Threat to Humanity and How to Stop It, explained measures world governments can take to protect themselves against devastating disease outbreaks.
His analysis leans more toward a “worst-case scenario,” explaining:
“We’ve now seen cases on six continents, apparently ‘silent’–that is, at least partly asymptomatic–chains of human-to-human transmission both inside and outside China, with additional countries reporting cases within the last week–bringing the total to 47–and new, accelerating outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea. If it becomes a pandemic, the questions are, how bad will it get and how long will it last? The case fatality rate–the proportion of cases that are fatal–has been just over 2%, much less than it was for Sars, but 20 times that of seasonal flu. There are still many unknowns–we may have underestimated the period during which a person is contagious, for instance, and the variety of ways in which the virus spreads.”
When asked about the United States’ preparedness, Quick asserted:
“The US ranks high on the GHS index, but is still unprepared for a severe pandemic, should one happen. Malfunctioning coronavirus tests have frustrated public health labs and delayed outbreak monitoring. Supplies of masks, suits and other protective material for health workers are running low in the midst of a moderately severe flu season. Since the creation of a much-needed public health emergency preparedness fund in the aftermath of 9/11, its budget and the public health functions it supports have been steadily reduced. This is the mentality that left the world vulnerable to the devastating 2014 outbreak of Ebola in west Africa–that is, close the fire department and cancel the fire insurance as nobody’s house or factory has burned down lately. It’s time we learned that the bugs never stop mutating and crossing over to humans.”
And since the Trump administration is fiddling while Rome burns, we’re on our own.
Without a vaccine, the CDC is suggesting the following perfunctory steps to mitigate contagion:
- Avoid close contact with those known or suspected to be ill;
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth;
- Stay home when ill;
- Cover coughs and sneezes with tissues, then throw the tissue in the trash;
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces with a household cleaning spray or wipe;
- Follow CDC’s recommendations for wearing face masks:
- CDC does not recommend people who are well wear masks to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
- Only those who show symptoms should wear face masks. The use masks are crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of those in close settings, such as at home or in healthcare facilities)
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using a restroom; before eating; and after blowing the nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
These are, of course, the bear minimum, and steps we should all be taking already.
Naturally, they aren’t idea, especially the advice to stay home from work. Without a national healthcare system, most can’t afford to do that.
Here is yet another argument for single-payer healthcare.
This might just be the “new normal.”
Cold, flu, and coronavirus just may be part of the price of living in the United States from now on.
Image credit: en.wikipedia.org