The COVID-19 coronavirus is now a full-fledged pandemic.
🚨 BREAKING 🚨
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) March 11, 2020
A functional government would have begun putting the necessary precautions in place at the outbreak’s first sign.
We had months to prepare.
Yet the Trump administration did nothing.
Despite all the ways the White House dropped the proverbial ball, one would assume, with the virus having infected more than 1,281 Americans (so far), our Congress would be able to put partisan differences aside for the good of all Americans.
Last week, the Democratically controlled House of Representatives passed an $8 billion emergency funding bill.
But Republicans control the Senate, and they’re aren’t about to begin legislating in the public interest now.
Wednesday, hours after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) blocked a vote on an emergency paid sick leave bill that would have guaranteed American workers 14 days of paid sick leave in public health emergencies, claiming it would be an “expensive” and burdensome employer mandate.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) expedited the bill through the legislative process so senators could vote on it swiftly, stating:
“For many of our workers―restaurant workers, truck drivers, service industry workers―they may not have an option to take a day off without losing their pay or losing their job. That’s not a choice we should be asking anyone to make in the United States in the 21st century.”
Sen. Alexander suggested the bill the GOP-controlled Health Committee must vote on it first.
In the middle of a GLOBAL PANDEMIC, Senate Republicans just blocked emergency paid sick leave.
Yes, you read that right. This is unconscionable. Every last one of them should lose their jobs. https://t.co/fDwXGoCW7x
— Alex Wall (@AlexBWall) March 11, 2020
The country does not have enough test kits for all the suspected corona virus patients.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield confirmed at a hearing:
“The truth is, we’re underinvested in the public health labs. There’s not enough equipment. There’s not enough people. There’s not enough internal capacity. There’s no surge capacity.”
Those demonstrating corona virus symptoms are being urged to stay home from work and see doctors.
But without paid sick leave or test kits, even those facile measures are unrealistic.
People will report to work sick; millions do it every day, especially if they are face loss of income.
Interestingly, though, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who donned a gas mask on the House floor before last week’s vote, was able to get tested.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows did as well.
As difficult as it may be to believe, perhaps Trump’s response to this crisis is actually not due entirely to incompetence.
“Economists and progressive advocacy groups are warning that President Donald Trump’s proposal to cut or temporarily suspend the payroll tax in an effort to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus is ‘a Trojan Horse attack on our Social Security system’ that will do little to help most U.S. households.”
Trump may be politicizing the virus.
What a surprise.
Donald Trump is using the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to propose a reduction in payroll contributions. This is a Trojan Horse attack on our Social Security system, which will do nothing to meaningfully address the #Covid19 crisis. https://t.co/khbzM0mSRu (1/7)
— SocialSecurityWorks (@SSWorks) March 10, 2020
Another reason Trump may be stalling: Jared Kushner.
As reported in Politico, Trump is reluctant to declare a national emergency because it “contradicts his message” the outbreak is tantamount to the annual flu–and because Vice President Mike Pence’s corona virus task force will not deliver Trump a verdict until Jared Kushner, the president’s son in law and senior adviser, “finishes his research and comes to a conclusion himself.”
320 million Americans’ health is at stake because Jared Kushner has to come to a personal conclusion about it.
The World Health Organization (WHO) be damned.
The CDC be damned.
Jared Kushner to the rescue.
Moreover, Reuters reported:
“Dozens of classified discussions about such topics as the scope of infections, quarantines, and travel restrictions have been held since mid-January in a high-security meeting room at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Staffers without security clearances, including government experts, were excluded from the interagency meetings, which included video conference calls”
“We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go. These should not be classified meetings. It was unnecessary.”
The White House has reportedly instructed federal agencies to *classify* coronavirus deliberations and meetings — a clear effort to hide information from the public.
— American Oversight (@weareoversight) March 11, 2020
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.
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 ideal, 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: www.tasnimnews.com