The coronavirus pandemic has precipitated one of the biggest crises in the United States in a century. It is a health-care, economic, and political crisis. The numbers of reported cases here have quickly surpassed other countries, and the crisis is still in its early stages. Staying at home, in order to flatten the curve, has become a national imperative.
Today hospitals are running out of supplies. Despite advanced warning, appropriate testing is lacking. People are panicking. Trump, by his own admission, takes no responsibility. Frontline workers are left to battle a deadly disease without organized leadership, planning, resources, or even the information needed to develop an appropriate response. And who will suffer the most from this? Working-class people, particularly senior citizens, people of color, and women.
Under these circumstances, state, local, and public health officials; doctors, nurses, and other medical workers and technicians; universities, research labs, public school systems, and non-profit service organizations; and community volunteers are working heroically against all the odds.
And people are staying at home, rightly skeptical of Trump’s initial declaration to open America “for business” on Easter Sunday. But mass public pressure and public health officials have forced Trump to extend the stay-at-home policy to the end of April.
Despite this policy and other measures, it has become clear that neither the public nor the private health care system can handle the crisis.
Even with Obamacare, public health efforts have been slashed and undermined for decades, weakened by decades of Republican Party attacks. Trump administration policies aim to rip health care from millions by dismantling the ACA and cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and SNAP (food stamps). Hundreds of thousands may die needlessly as a result.
The private health-care system has led to chaos. Each health-care organization is left to create and implement its own response, resulting in conflicting recommendations and standards among health-care organizations, mass confusion, and wasted time.
The pandemic is deepening the political crisis. The powerful are taking advantage of the crisis to continue their attacks on democracy and increase their profits.
Adding to the political crisis are vacancies in staffing positions or departments administered by acting directors with less experience and clout. Trump eliminated the National Security Agency’s office on pandemic preparedness, cut Centers for Disease Control funding, and ignored warnings by public health officials. He dismisses science and is a daily fountain of disinformation.
Trump refuses to use the Defense Production Act to command industry to produce essential medical supplies and equipment, forcing governors to compete over scarce resources. States have been left mainly to battle a deadly disease alone.
The public health response often differs from state to state, depending on whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge. Nearly half of the states have completely shut down all non-essential services and businesses and ordered residents to stay home. Other states continue to run restaurants, libraries, and beaches as if nothing were happening.
The global crisis of COVID-19 has exposed the ways in which capitalism, a system that puts profits before people, has epically failed. The wealthy made a bundle before the market crashed, and corporations are being bailed out. Many corporations are price gouging and hoarding essential supplies. Meanwhile, millions of workers are being laid off and are taking a massive hit on their 401(k) retirement savings. The $2 trillion economic package will only alleviate some of the most severe aspects of the coming recession. What’s going to happen when the $1,200 checks and unemployment compensation runs out? Because of ongoing disruptions in supply chains due to corona pandemics in other countries, a global depression is possible.
At the same time, socialist-oriented states are demonstrating the power of patient-centered public health-care systems and the ability of an entire nation to marshal resources quickly, despite frequently being hampered by underdevelopment.
China moved quickly against the coronavirus. Acknowledging early mistakes, the government quarantined Wuhan and Hubei Province when it understood the nature of the crisis and danger it posed. This action gave the rest of China and the world a chance to prepare.
China has mobilized its manufacturing capacity to produce personal protective equipment and tests, build hospitals in days, send 30,000 health-care workers to Wuhan, and set up extensive testing and outreach to every resident. Now China is working around the clock to manufacture essential medical equipment for other countries.
Cuba has one of the most advanced public health systems in the world. It has contained the limited cases brought to the island. Cuba opened its borders to known positive cases when the cruise ship MS Braemar was permitted to disembark its passengers and fly them home, something no other country in the region or perhaps anywhere else would do.
Cuba is doing what it does in every global health crisis—offering medicine and sending doctors internationally, particularly to Italy, to provide medical care.
The world can win the battle against coronavirus. The movement to #StayHome is a social and health responsibility, which will #FlattenTheCurve, save lives, and protect health-care workers. The US needs a far more robust, concerted, and national response to the coronavirus pandemic to avoid the worst-case scenarios.
The point of departure for addressing this crisis is putting people over profits. Make no mistake: people are drawing deeper conclusions about the systemic nature of this crisis. Addressing it in November means defeating Trump and the GOP. Down the road, depending on how the crisis unfolds, more public-ownership solutions will be needed. The socialist moment begins where capitalism fails.
- Use of the Defense Production Act to make needed medical supplies on an emergency basis, including test kits, personal protective equipment, ventilators, IV pumps, hospital beds, and other supplies; and to build additional hospitals, triage, and quarantine facilities.
- Emergency extension of free health care, including coronavirus testing and treatment for all, including undocumented immigrants.
- A moratorium on rent, mortgage, and other loan payments and cancellation of all student loans. A moratorium on evictions and repossessions. Open up vacant public housing and facilities to house the homeless.
- Provide free food for families who need it.
- Hazard pay for those on the front lines: nurses, doctors, pharmacists, medical techs, administrative support staff, grocery store workers, delivery workers, truck drivers, mail carriers, police, fire, EMS—anyone deemed essential who cannot work from home.
- Extension and expansion of unemployment benefits equal to 100% of wages to those affected by the crisis, including furloughed workers and those with reduced work hours for the duration of the national emergency, including undocumented immigrant workers.
- Lift the blockade on Cuba and sanctions on Iran to stop hindering their ability to respond to the global crisis. Global cooperation, including with China, to defeat the coronavirus is absolutely essential.
- Release of refugees currently imprisoned at the border and in detention centers elsewhere. Reversal of new rules turning away amnesty seekers.
- Decarceration of those convicted of low-level drug possession and non-violent offenders. Amnesty for elderly non-violent prisoners. Extra protections for remaining incarcerated and prison staff from high risks associated with prisons.
- Reversal of new EPA rules allowing corporations free rein to pollute the environment.
- Reversal of new rules allowing federal union busting.
To prevent similar public health disasters in the future, we need:
- National universal health care with coverage for everyone, including homeless, undocumented, non-citizen residents, and visitors (people on student, work, or tourist visas). Incorporate a robust public health program to include preventive health, community medicine, and disaster preparedness.
- Mandatory paid sick leave, including personal sick leave, parental leave for the birth, fostering, or adoption of a child, leave to take care of a sick family member. Convert everything covered by FMLA to paid leave.
- Full funding for hospitals and clinics in every community, town, and rural community. Nurses in every school.
- Full funding of the VA, CDC, and FEMA, and restoration of government agencies overseeing pandemic preparedness.