Category Archives: Medical Insurance

Covid-19: past, present and future

The current pandemic continues to have a large negative impact on most aspects of our lives. Over 20.6 million have been infected and almost 750,000 have died worldwide (about 5.3 million infections and over 168,00 deaths in the US) due to this pandemic. Besides these horrific impacts, this pandemic has also made clearer the failure of the bipartisan neoliberal economic approach that puts profit before people and planet.

Pre-pandemic

Before the pandemic, the world was already nearing a climate catastrophe and ecological collapse. In addition, under its neoliberal approach, the US already had a shamefully large number of homeless, tens of millions underinsured or without health insurance, millions experiencing hunger, millions without jobs, millions more facing huge debts, and an appalling wealth and income inequality. Politicians, operating in a system of legalized bribery, continued to fund the military wildly beyond its needs. This wasteful spending clearly didn’t make us secure and took money from the far more needed and productive domestic spending. In addition, systemic racism, especially in the US ‘injustice’ system, greatly harmed minorities. This was hardly an ideal world.

During the pandemic

Due to the Trump administration’s scandalous lack of preparedness and its failure to promptly implement public health measures, many municipalities instituted total lockdowns in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19. These lockdowns led to the closing of many businesses (especially small businesses) and tens of millions filed for unemployment. These job losses resulted in millions more: 1) losing their health insurance; 2) facing the loss of their housing; and 3) experiencing severe hunger. In addition, due to systemic racism, minorities were disproportionately more susceptible to the disease than whites.

So far, the Trump administration and Congress have enacted relief packages that primarily benefited the already obscenely wealthy while providing only minimal short-term aid to the rest of us. In contrast, several other nations demonstrated real concern about their people and their businesses by funding 70% or more of the business payrolls. As a result, they didn’t experience large job losses or bankruptcies.

My hopes

My hopes are that the politicians would finally live up to the ideas in: 1) the Second Bill of Rights (an economic bill of rights) that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed in 1944; and 2) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), including the rights of women, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948.

Roosevelt said: In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment; and,
  • The right to a good education.

Unfortunately, the US doesn’t recognize these rights and some others in the UDHR that are accepted by many other wealthy nations. As a result, tens of millions of our population unnecessarily suffer tremendous harm.

In addition, my hopes include a major overhaul in our imperialistic foreign policy. We must rejoin the family of nations and rely on diplomacy instead of military power and economic coercion. The global threats of nuclear war and the looming climate catastrophe require nations to work together.

Some vital changes

Unless the Trump administration and Congress quickly enact bills that:

1) fill shortfalls in the budgets of the Post Office and state and local governments;

2) provide aid to true small businesses;

3) provide long-term funding directly to the population;

4) declare a jubilee on debts owed to predatory lenders;

5) support a green new deal;

6) provide healthcare for all;

7) drastically reduce the military budget; and especially

8) fully protect the rights of minorities,

I fear the US is likely to fall into a long-lasting depression and risk societal collapse.

Update

President Trump and the Republican-led Senate dithered around for two months after the House proposed its major relief bill instead of getting a new relief bill enacted. This ineptitude and callous attitude towards the desperation and suffering of many Americans is incredible. Making matters maddeningly worse, the US is still ill prepared to deal with this crisis, a crisis that is likely to worsen upon the return of inadequately protected teachers and students to school.

Unfortunately, these updates reinforce my fears about the future.

COVID-19 Crisis Failure, People Must Save Themselves and the Economy

Positive COVID-19 Test (Shutterstock)

The US is at a moment of truth. This week, Congress has to face up to a pandemic that is out of control and an economy that is collapsing. The Republican’s and Democrat’s proposals show they will fail this test. The people will need to protect themselves and lead from below.

The pandemic is worsening with more than 60,000 new cases and approximately 1,000 new deaths daily. Deaths, now over 158,000, are spiking across the sunbelt and increasing across the Midwest. By Election Day, the US could have 250,000 deaths making COVID-19 the third largest killer after cancer and heart disease.

The economy shrank at a record 32.9% annual pace in the second quarter, the largest since records were first kept in 1947. Jobless claims increased for the second week in a row with 1.4 million new people seeking unemployment benefits and continuing claims have risen to 17.06 million. More than 35 million people have lost their jobs since March.

In the face of these depression-era numbers, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are planning enough spending to rebuild the economy. President Trump, who has botched the response to the pandemic, is unable to lead but seems willing to sign anything that passes Congress.

Boxes of food are distributed by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, at a drive thru distribution in downtown Pittsburgh, 10 April, 2020 (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar.)

Republican HEALS Act Will Spread the Virus, Deepen Economic Collapse

The Republican Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act seeks to push people back to work and reopen schools even if it is not safe to do so. Their proposals to cut unemployment benefits are designed to make workers desperate so they will work in conditions that put their health at risk. A large portion of school funding is restricted to schools that physically reopen forcing unsafe schools. Here are some of the details of the bill:

Health care: The inadequacy of for-profit healthcare has been magnified by the pandemic. The loss of jobs resulted in millions of people losing their health insurance on top of almost 30 million people who were already uninsured. Republicans do not include a funding increase for Medicaid, which 70 million people rely on. The National Governor’s Association reports states are experiencing budget shortfalls ranging between 5 and 20 percent. The Republicans do not provide any funding to state and local governments to make up for this loss of income. Without new funding, states will have to cut Medicaid eligibility, reduce benefits, or reduce payments to providers at a time when the economy and virus mean more people need it.

Food: The Census reports 26 million people do not have adequate food. Food banks are reporting shortages and 14 million children are going hungry but the Republicans did not extend funding for food assistance programs. The Republicans did not extend either the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps, or the Pandemic EBT program, a benefit for households with children who have temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals, which ended in June. In contrast, they did propose a 100 percent deduction on business meals through the end of 2020.

Housing: The eviction moratorium expired last week. It protected an estimated 12 million renters in federally-backed properties. The HEALS Act does nothing to prevent evictions from restarting. There are 110 million Americans who live in rental households. Twenty percent of them, 23 million people, are at risk of eviction by September 30 according to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. With the cut in unemployment benefits, the Census Bureau estimates 24 million people will be unable to pay next month’s rent, including 45 percent of Black and Latinx households.

Worker safety: As workers are being forced back to work, the HEALS Act cuts their ability to sue at a time when worker-safety is at its greatest risk in a century.  Senator McConnell calls this a “red line” that must be in the final bill. His proposal would preempt the few state workplace safety laws that exist and supersede such federal worker safeguards as the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, among others. The Republican proposal would erect almost insurmountable obstacles to lawsuits by workers who become infected at their workplaces and limit damages. To be immune, employers would merely have to show they were  “exploring options” to comply with federal law, or they found the risk of harm to health could not be “reduced or eliminated by reasonably modifying policies, practices, or procedures.” A worker whose lawyer issues a demand letter and settlement offer would find themselves potentially facing litigation by the employer against them. If employers sue workers, there is no limit to punitive damages. These provisions would be retroactive to December 1, 2019, and remain in effect at least until October 1, 2024.

Student debt: The HEALS Act doesn’t extend the interest-free payment pause on federal student loans or halt debt collection on government-held student debt, two forms of relief in the original CARES ACT. Without extending the relief Congress first granted to student loan borrowers through the CARES Act, 40 million people are likely to have to resume payments on September 30, 2020 at a time when there are Depression-like levels of unemployment.

Business support: The Act provides $100 billion more for the problematic Paycheck Protection Program, which has been rife with corruption as members of Congress and the administration as well as their friends, families, and donors got payouts. Big businesses got loans even though the program was intended for small businesses, making small business owners furious. Black and minority businesses were denied loans. Money is needed for main street businesses but PPP needs major changes rather than just pouring more money into the failed program.

The bill also includes $1.75 billion for the FBI building. This was added at the insistence of the Trump administration because the president’s hotel is across the street from the FBI. Without funding to refurbish the building, the FBI could move to Virginia or Maryland, leaving the current building to be torn down and likely replaced with a hotel that would compete with Trump’s hotel.

Military spending: Nearly $30 billion in the HEALS Act would be allocated in a brazen giveaway to the military. The bill includes billions for the Pentagon including $686 million for F-35 stealth fighters, $650 million for A-10 ground attack airplane wing replacements, $1.4 billion for four expeditionary medical ships, and $720 million for C-130J transport aircraft, $375 million for armored vehicles, $360 million for missile defense, and $283 million for Apache helicopters. This is reportedly being added to make up for money taken from the Pentagon for the border wall and comes after Congress recently passed a record military spending bill.

Paramedics taking a patient into an Emergency Room at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The Democrats Fail To Use Their Power

The Democrats control the House of Representatives. Nothing can pass the Senate without Democratic Party support. The Senate Republicans are divided and Trump is desperate to sign a bill. Polls show Republicans could lose the Senate so they need to pass a good bill. The political alignment favors the Democratic Party but it still isn’t doing what is needed.

The Democrats passed the HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act in May, a $3 trillion proposal compared to the $1 trillion HEALS Act. Two months ago this may have been adequate but now that figure needs to be increased as more jobs have been lost, state and city governments have lost income, and the cost of treating the virus has increased with more cases.

A “red line” for the Democrats should be funding state and local government with at least $1 trillion to continue basic services. More than 20 million people work for state and local governments such as firefighters, teachers, police, sanitation workers, and transportation workers. The Economic Policy Institute estimates 5.3 million jobs will be lost without state and local funding. President Trump and the Republicans do not want another massive increase in job loss, so the Democrats are in a strong position to make this demand.

The decrease in unemployment benefits should be another unacceptable “red line” as this will further shrink the economy. The Economic Policy Institute finds the loss of the extra $600 of unemployment benefits, which people are currently spending on basic needs, will result in the loss of an additional 3.4 million jobs.

One area where the Democrats can build on some agreement is the $1,200 COVID-19 relief payment to individuals. These payments are too small. A good COVID-19 relief package would increase payments to $2,000 per person monthly for the duration of the pandemic and recession for households earning under $150,000 as suggested by Sen. Bernie Sanders. This would slow the economic collapse and ease suffering.

It is essential to extend the moratorium on evictions not just for federally-subsidized housing, but the federal government should also cover rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the crises. Otherwise, millions of families will lose their homes in an election year, which should be politically unpalatable for both parties.

Health workers give people free Covid-19 tests in Arlington, Virginia, on May 26 (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

We Need a Plan

What is missing from both the Republican and Democratic bills is a strategy to control and stop the pandemic. The virus is 7 months old and still spreading rapidly. President Trump has failed to lead so Congress must do so. The bill should include a massive investment in making rapid testing available across the country. Every business and school should have rapid testing capability before they reopen. This should be combined with hiring 500,000 public health tracers so those who have been exposed to COVID-19 can be tracked to prevent further spread of the virus.

Everyone wants to restart the economy but this must be done safely. In addition to testing and tracing, workplaces and schools must be safe. School districts should decide whether to restart or continue web-based learning and should be supported by the federal government whatever they choose. Hundreds of thousands of tutors who can do one-on-one teaching to support web-based learning are needed. With high unemployment, especially among recent graduates and college students, there are people available to take on this task.

Congress should authorize OSHA to rapidly enact stringent standards for workplaces to reopen, along with funding for necessary safeguards. There should be increased funding for OSHA workplace inspections and investigations of inadequate safety. Employers who meet the standards for a safe workplace should have legal protection from frivolous lawsuits but employees should also have the right to sue if workplaces do not meet safety standards. This approach protects both workers and employers and will reduce the spread of the virus.

Neither party handled healthcare well even before the pandemic. COVID-19 has magnified the failure of for-profit healthcare. To stop the spread of the virus, Congress needs to break away from its privatized approach to healthcare. With the widespread job loss, 5.4 million workers lost their health insurance as did millions more family members. This is the largest decline in health insurance coverage in US history. The rapid response to this healthcare crisis should be the expansion of Medicare to everyone in the United States. Ideological opposition to publicly funded healthcare should not block this essential step. The long term failure of our healthcare system and widening health disparities demonstrate why we need a community-controlled, public, universal healthcare system.

Workers strike over safety (Yahoo Finance)

he People Must Rule, and Protect Ourselves

Congress and the President are unlikely to enact the laws needed to confront the pandemic and economic collapse. As a result, both will worsen. We will have to take action to protect ourselves and build popular power to win our demands.

We need to organize mutual aid to people meet people’s basic needs, such as for food and housing. Many cities have vacant buildings owned by the local and federal governments. As homelessness rises, these should be taken over to house people. We discuss the practical steps for taking over homes with Cheri Honkala this week on Clearing The FOG, (available as a podcast on Monday).

We build popular power by taking the streets as people have been doing for over two months now across the country, only buying essentials, refusing to pay rent or debt payments, blocking evictions and by building in our workplaces for a general strike.

Our actions must not be about which presidential candidate from the two parties of the millionaires to elect. Only one serious presidential campaign is right on COVID-19 and the economy, the Green candidates Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker. Our actions need to be about building a people’s movement that grows in power before and after the November elections. No matter who is elected, the people will need to resist, create new systems and rule from below.

The American Teaching Hospital: School for Psychopaths

Medicine has changed. We used to be a calling that catered to the public welfare, and our prime consideration was the patient. Now we are a business, and some of us practice as impersonal corporations, with the bottom line the profits, not the well-being of the patient.”

— From The Doctor, by Dr. Edward E. Rosenbaum, 1991

The most shocking thing about the neoliberal health care model is not that it bankrupts and murders hundreds of thousands of Americans each year, but that vast numbers of physicians continue to support it. The insatiable depravity of the anti-single-payer virus has metastasized throughout every organ of the American teaching hospital, an institution which has betrayed its sacrosanct purpose, and which increasingly inculcates residents with the pernicious idea that good health care is a privilege and not a right.

The teaching hospital has become a dangerous place, not only for patients, but also for trainees, who are being forged into physicians without having been inculcated with a respect for basic principles of medical ethics. In this way have American physicians largely been reduced to an army of automatons trained to make money for the medical industrial complex. Indeed, it should come as no surprise that many residents lose themselves in a pitiless sea of soulless careerism, as they are immersed for years in an environment where they are beholden to, and at the mercy of, rapacious interests that place profit-making over all other considerations.

The teaching hospital is to health care what the ballet academy is to ballet and the music conservatory is to the symphony orchestra. All who covet this career must pass through its gates, and the values it imparts to its pupils form the basis of the light — or the inexorable darkness — that will assuredly follow.

Knowing that patients are often confined to extremely narrow networks, it is standard practice for teaching hospitals to arm-twist patients with inferior insurance into being medical models during physician office visits. This underscores the sociopathy of the contemporary teaching hospital, and serves as a metaphor for how these institutions have become inhuman machines that harm patients and sully the souls of their trainees. Cornell Dermatology, a department that could win an award for teaching residents how to coerce patients with inferior insurance into being clinical teaching tools, takes great pride in their villainy, writing on their website:

In addition to basic and clinical dermatology training, we strive to instill ethical behavior, compassion, communication and the recognition that we are here to serve our patients.

Residents that are the most amenable to the dictates of unscrupulous attendings position themselves to become chief resident or to be awarded a prestigious fellowship. In the American teaching hospital, this is the only thing on the mind of most trainees.

It is incontrovertible that the multi-tier system, the spawn of privatized health care, is incompatible with the oath to do no harm. Cornell Oncology, which once assigned me to a fellow due to my unglamorous insurance, writes on their website that “We care for the whole person and put the needs of our patients at the center of everything that we do.” Despite a blatant predilection for medical Jim Crow, Weill Cornell claims in their literature to have “a legacy of putting patients first.” In actuality, American teaching hospitals put profit-making first, research second, the attending’s comfort (vis-à-vis their desire to have a medical scribe or chaperone present in the examination room) third, the teaching of the trainee fourth, and the patient last.

In “I am a physician and I am not your enemy,” by Megan Gray, MD, the author laments the fact that her patients are wary of doctors. “I am asking you to trust that every day I put your needs above my own,” she writes entreatingly. It is possible that Dr. Gray does, in fact, put the needs of her patients above her own. Regrettably, this is often not the case, as evidenced by the fact that American physicians wrote over two hundred million prescriptions for opioids each year from 2006 – 2016, millions of our countrymen have been made addicted to psychotropic drugs, while Vioxx took the lives of roughly the same number of Americans as died in the Vietnam War.

It is clear that the physician-patient bond, regarded as inviolable for millennia, cannot coexist within the mores of privatized health care. Yet many doctors would argue otherwise. In “Being a doctor is not what it used to be,” by Raviraj Patel, MD, the author writes that “in my humble opinion, the patient-physician relationship is sacred, and the entire system is designed to facilitate that relationship.” In “To combat COVID-19, we endanger our doctors in training,” Gali Hashmonay, MD, writes of our uniquely dysfunctional for-profit apparatus, that “This system attracts doctors in training who are eager to put a patient’s well-being in front of their own.” Indeed, accepting gifts from pharmaceutical companies, performing practice pelvic exams on anesthetized patients, not disclosing long-term chemotherapy side effects, getting patients addicted to drugs (formerly benzodiazepines and barbiturates), imposing unwanted observers on patients during their physician office visits, pushing unnecessary surgeries, and ignoring do not resuscitate orders are some of the many things that residents have to look forward to when training at our esteemed teaching hospitals. After the corporate lexicon of “humanism,” “patient-centered care,” and “compassion” are stripped away, blind obedience is the attribute most coveted by teaching hospitals when interviewing prospective residents.

By refusing to acknowledge that corporatization has been a catastrophe, anti-single-payer physicians have sacrificed their autonomy to the devilish whims of the private health insurance companies, which have usurped the medical decision-making process. They have also sold their souls to the pharmaceutical companies, which continue to corrupt medical knowledge and foment quackery; and to hospital executives, who treat doctors as if they were employees at an investment bank.

The successful Cuban response to the pandemic underscores the fact that money and technology are useless when profits are placed over human lives. Vietnam, also a poor country with limited resources, has likewise mustered a stronger defense against the virus than the Beacon of Liberty. Cuba’s health care system is so robust that they have continued to send teams of doctors abroad, even in the midst of the pandemic.

Successfully completing a residency is analogous to being awarded a black belt in karate. Without a sense of compassion and virtue, such an individual is destined to become a danger to themselves, and a danger to others. As profiteering and the multi-tier system have become normalized in the American teaching hospital, this can only result in the commodification of the patient in the mind of the debased trainee.

In “5 things that make U.S. health care great,” by Suneel Dhand, MD, the author posits, without satire, that “A homeless American entering the doors of a hospital with an acute medical issue — be it sepsis, a myocardial infarction, or a stroke — will get better care than a rich person almost anywhere else in the world.” Writing for KevinMD, Kent Holtorf, MD, concedes that “The U.S. far exceeds any nation in expenditures for insurance administration, where the essential means of cost control is denial of service and rationing of care via ever increasing complex treatment approval systems, resulting in spiraling costs.” He then concludes:

A free-market system is shown to be the only reasonable method of reform that addresses the true underlying problems of the U.S. health care system and effectively lowers health care costs, allowing for universal insurance coverage for most everyone so any reasonable person — doctor, patient, Republican or Democrat — could support.

Not to be outdone, Kevin Tolliver, MD, asks In “A framework to understand universal health care:”

At its core, universal health care forces healthy people to pay for others’ medical care. Is this fair? Why should an active, healthy-eating, non-smoker pay for health care for an obese, sedentary diabetic who chain smokes all day?

In “Corporate games have ruined the health care system,” Osmund Agbo, MD, acknowledges that “When an insurance executive is making a seven-figure bonus, it’s very clear his loyalty lies somewhere else outside the interest of regular Americans struggling to pay an infinitely rising monthly premium.”  He then informs us that “I am not a fan of socialist medicine. On the contrary, I am a firm believer in the free market enterprise system.”

Where does all of this irrationality and deranged thinking come from? Surely, the media has played a role. And yet we cannot discount the deleterious influence of the teaching hospital, which far more than medical school, profoundly shapes an impressionable trainee’s sense of right and wrong. Polluted and defiled by the pathogen of amorality, the fallen wallow in the plague wards of neoliberalism, banished from the world of compassion and rationality, and forever condemned to live out their days enveloped by a shroud of blindness.

Let us recall Pope’s haunting words in An Essay on Man: Epistle II:

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

Only by collectively acknowledging that health care cannot be sold as cars, kitchen appliances, and soap are sold; that it is the doctor’s sacred duty to treat all patients equally, regardless of their ability to pay; and that medical ethics can only flourish in a nonprofit socialized system, can we take this desperately needed step in reclaiming our humanity. For too long have American teaching hospitals been bastions for every form of knavery, perfidy, and skulduggery. These institutions must cast off their shackles of corporate thralldom, and join the fight to restore dignity and honor to American health care.

We are Being Held Hostage to Unfettered Capitalism: not to Trump, Racism, the Chinese or COVID-19

As the US continues to be ravaged by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the country remains in lockdown, a morbid irony of which is that we appear to have traded COVID-19 deaths for suicides. The catastrophe has laid bare the cruelties of neoliberalism, yet this has not stopped the media from unleashing a barrage of misinformation, blaming the disaster on the president, racism, and the Chinese, interspersed with other creative attempts at scapegoating. Indeed, the pandemic appears to have coincided with a peculiar outbreak of epidemiologic hallucinations.

Many have been happy to blame the president for the country’s disastrous coronavirus response. In a Common Dreams article titled “As Nation Mourns 100,000 Dead, Trump Goes Golfing,” the authors write, “President Donald J. Trump, who has faced mounting criticism for his administration’s mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and his lack of empathy throughout, decided to leave the White House on Saturday to play golf.” “Trump going golfing shows a tone-deafness and a lack of empathy,” the authors chide.

A Common Dreams article by Julia Conley blames Trump for Americans that refuse to wear masks, referring to these miscreants as “Trumpian anti-mask jerks.” “This Is Trump’s Fault: The President is Failing, and Americans are Paying for his Failures,” which appeared in The Atlantic, pushes a similar faux-left argument. In an article that appeared in Mother Jones titled “Trump’s 100 Days of Deadly Coronavirus Denial,” the authors write that “The severity of the moment has often escaped the president, who seems intent on solving the crisis with spin and bluster—along with a healthy dose of magical thinking and buck-passing.” Riding this wave of philistinism, Michael D. Shear and Donald G. McNeil Jr. write for The New York Times:

For weeks, President Trump has faced relentless criticism for having overseen a slow and ineffective response to the coronavirus pandemic, failing to quickly embrace public health measures that could have prevented the disease from spreading.

Recent polls show that more Americans disapprove of Mr. Trump’s handling of the virus than approve.

It is true that the president has failed to be transparent regarding the lack of testing, ventilators, and personal protective equipment (PPE). He has also repeatedly, and without scientific evidence, promoted hydroxychloroquine, which he even claims to be taking himself. Yet the president’s lexical inanities cannot alter the fact that the American health care system is not run by the White House at all, but by corporations which have long placed profit-making over all other considerations.

While lampooning the 45th president may fill liberals with a perverse sense of schadenfreude, the fact is that the present health care system is precisely the very system that Trump inherited from his predecessor. In fact, this is the same diabolical system we have had for over thirty years.

When not blaming The Orange One, China has also served as a convenient scapegoat. Writing for SILive.com, Tom Wrobleski posits in “Here’s who to Blame for Coronavirus: Communist China,” that “A leaked report from the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance – consisting of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand – lays out in damning detail how the Chinese downplayed the outbreak from the very beginning, according to multiple media reports.”

The New York Post, a China-bashing aficionado, informs us in “China Admits to Destroying Coronavirus Samples, Insists it was for Safety,” that “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has charged that Beijing refused to provide virus samples taken from patients when the pandemic began in China in late 2019, and that Chinese authorities had destroyed early samples.” An article on CNN.com titled “US Government Report Assesses China Intentionally Concealed Severity of Coronavirus” further promotes this preposterous narrative. Not one to be outblustered or to shy away from scapegoating, Trump himself has attempted to lay the blame on both Beijing and the World Health Organization (WHO).

There is undoubtedly some truth to the claim that African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have been particularly hard-hit by the virus. (The Seattle Indian Health Board requested COVID-19 tests, and were sent body bags instead). And yet identity politics demagoguery is being used as a means to divert attention away from the fact that a health care system which allows people to die because they cannot afford their insulin will inevitably be ill-equipped to contain a pandemic.

Already, there have been efforts made to profit off of the catastrophe, as evidenced by the rash attempt to promote not only hydroxychloroquine, but also remdesivir, another drug which is being hailed as a savior yet which has likewise been inadequately tested.

The financial barriers that go hand in hand with obtaining medical care in a for-profit system can only facilitate the spread of the virus. Writing for The Nation, Augie Lindmark, MD, writes:

Long before SARS-CoV-2 dominated news cycles and hospitals alike, there were already established epidemics in US health care: namely, medical bills and uncertainty. In 2019, a third of US adults reported that their families couldn’t afford health care and 44 percent endorsed skipping a doctor’s visit because of cost. Medication affordability wasn’t much better: 29 percent of adults reported not taking a medication as prescribed because of cost.

Enter Covid-19. You could almost hear the virus salivate.

Indeed, prior to the pandemic there were Americans that were unable to get a divorce, get married, quit their job, or even work, out of a legitimate fear of losing their insurance. Insufficient and inadequate PPE will continue to endanger the lives of frontline health care workers and their families, as well as the lives of non-COVID patients that require emergent care. Furthermore, as Dr. Ashish Jha, Dr. Leana Wen, and others have noted, a lack of testing makes reopening the economy a particularly hazardous endeavor.

Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea have largely been able to keep their economies open due to comprehensive testing, widespread temperature checks, contact tracing, and universal coverage; while the Danish government implemented a scheme ensuring that most of its workforce would continue to be paid in the event that they were forced to stop working as a result of the quarantine. Commenting on the draconian lockdown measures implemented in a number of Western countries, Yoram Lass, former Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Health, said in an interview with spiked: “In developed countries many will die from unemployment. Unemployment is mortality. More people will die from the measures than from the virus.”

It is incontrovertible that the lack of hospitals, ventilators, respirators, testing, and contact tracing, are the spawn of an oligarchy which continues to sabotage the implementation of a nationalized single-payer model. Moreover, this is the same health care system that relentlessly pushes profitable yet ethically dubious treatments, such as staggering amounts of opioids and psychotropic drugs, Vioxx, and unnecessary surgeries. With an official death toll hovering around 100,000, the US has been the country most ravaged by the virus, a testament to a health care system whose avarice is insatiable, and which is indifferent to human life.

The question is, will any lessons be learned from this conflagration of misery and despair?

We Don’t Have To Choose Between Our Health And The Economy

The United States is at a critical moment in the COVID-crisis. This week, the nation is likely to surpass 100,000 deaths and new hotspots in the south and midwest are developing. Forty-two states have either started “reopening” their economies or imminently plan to do so without putting in place essential public health measures to prevent the spread of the virus. As of May 7, more than half of the states that had either reopened or planned to do so (30 at the time) have seen an increase in case counts or positive tests. Public health experts are predicting another round of mass illness and deaths.

President Trump, whose political future is tied to the pandemic and economic collapse, has been encouraging protests demanding the reopening of the economy. This is the latest in a series of mistakes made since China first warned the Centers for Disease Contol of the new virus on January 3. He is putting the economy ahead of public health and risking more than 200,000 deaths by October at the height of the 2020 elections. He seems to fear a recession becoming a depression more than mass COVID-deaths. In the end, he may get both.

Two opposite popular movements are developing. The movement encouraged by Trump is minimizing the pandemic and pushing for reopening the economy. They garnered national attention because of their open display of weapons, which resulted in the Michigan legislature closing down. The other movement is characterized by a wave of wildcat strikes, rent strikes, and a nascent general strike campaign calling for health protection for workers, hazard pay, a basic income during the pandemic, and access to healthcare without financial barriers. This movement is covered only in independent and social media.

We are continuing to build the General Strike campaign. Join the next organizing call on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific. The featured speaker is Kali Akuno of the People’s Strike and Cooperation Jackson who will describe the organizing behind the General Strike campaign. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting for the Zoom information.

Protesters carry rifles near the steps of the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, April 15, 2020. A protester holds a sign with a swastika (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Extremist Reopen Movement

The reopen protests play on the frustration of the restrictions put in place to respond to the pandemic. They shroud themselves with labels of “patriotism,” “freedom” and “libertarianism” but there are indications of manipulation by the Charles Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The pro-business magazine Forbes described the reopen protests as not spontaneous but astroturfing. They report on a security firm’s finding that they come from “various gun rights groups, state Republican Party organizations, and conservative think tanks, religious and advocacy groups.”

Many of the protesters wear Trump red hats and t-shirts. Trump responded by embracing the state-level push to reopen, and even encouraged protests against governors who maintain shelter-in-place instructions, declaring in late April, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” When protesters confronted the media, Trump encouraged them, calling the media “nonessential” and “fake news.” He described armed anti-lockdown protesters as ‘great people.’

In Michigan, the brandishing of weapons has been aggressive. Groups such as the Michigan Liberty Militia sent armed protesters inside the statehouse and crowded into the gallery of the state Senate after demanding to be allowed on the House floor. An attempt to ban weapons inside the statehouse was blocked by the Republican-dominated legislature resulting in Michigan canceling their legislative session.

Newsweek reports, “Dozens of posts in private invitation-only Facebook groups called for Whitmer to be hanged, lynched, shot, beaten or beheaded. One suggested crowdfunding sources to hire a hitman to kill her.” These followed President Trump’s attacks on Whitmer. Some legislators wore bulletproof vests to the capitol building and one black legislator was escorted by armed protectors. The armed extremists are in the minority as polling has shown that a majority of Michigan residents support the lockdown measures.

In Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers’ lockdown order was overturned by a 4-3 ruling by the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court. The Tavern League of Wisconsin posted news of the ruling on its website and said it meant businesses could open immediately. Just hours after the decision, people flocked to bars in Milwaukee without wearing face masks or practicing physical distancing. Some county governments moved quickly to impose their own lockdown rules. Evers said the Supreme Court does not change science and urged people to stay safe at home to protect their families, friends, and communities. There have been reopen protests even though 70 percent of Wisconsinites support the governor’s order.

At protest rallies, people were seen holding signs with swastikas on them. At a May 2 protest in Boise, Idaho, militia extremist Ammon Bundy compared government quarantine measures to the Nazi holocaust and called public health measures “tyranny.” A “Reopen Philadelphia” protest, organized by small business owners and members of the far-right Proud Boys, was held at City Hall last Friday.

These reopen extremists that use fear are a slim minority in the United States. A recent PBS/Marist poll showed broad opposition to the rush to reopen. Results included 85 percent opposed to reopening schools, 80 percent opposed to allowing dine-in restaurants, and 65 percent believe reopening now would be a bad idea. Nicole Hammer, author of Messengers of the Right, said these were protests designed for media coverage, but “The thing to remember about these protests is they’re very small. They represent a small constituency.”

Evidence throughout history shows that pandemics can have second and third waves. Countries that have attempted to reopen have seen spikes and closed down again. During the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, the second wave was worse than the first. We have been warned that a second wave is likely in the fall, during flu season, especially if we reopen too quickly.

The reopen protests are a death choir that is willing to sacrifice lives for the economy. Former Republican governor Chris Christie compared it to World War II when soldiers were sent to battle. He said, “In the very same way now we have to stand up for the American way of life” as we ‘are going to have to’ accept more death to reopen the economy. Along the same lines, Trump issued an executive order under the Defense Production Act to force meat processors to stay open despite the risk to workers’ health and urged states to deny unemployment benefits to people who refuse to return to work.

RNs affiliated with National Nurses United placed white shoes outside the White House, each pair representing a nurse lost due to insufficient PPE during COVID-19. | NNU via Twitter

The Larger Popular Movement Protects Life

People are taking action for the majority view by calling for adequate health protection for workers as well as hazard pay, access to healthcare without financial cost and an ongoing basic income to provide economic security throughout the pandemic and economic collapse.

There have now been three months of a COVID strike wave. The Payday Report has identified over 200 wildcat strikes since the beginning of March. Essential workers in the food industry, healthcare, and transportation are among those striking. The fruit workers strike wave in Washington State has spread to 13 major sites and there is a growing movement of truckers striking nationwideTruckers disrupted a Rose Garden presentation by Trump blowing their horns as he spoke. Trump falsely told the audience they were supporting him. When sanitation workers went on strike in New Orleans, they were replaced by prison slave-labor but the contractor has since stopped that. The strike is now in its second week.

Amazon, owned by Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest human, is being protested across national boundaries including in Spain, France, Germany, Poland, and the United States. Among the workers’ demands are permanent wage increases and extra break time,  two weeks of paid sick leave, and extending the unlimited unpaid sick leave program that the company just ended in the U.S. They want the company to work in good faith with unions and reinstate the workers fired for their activism. As Bezos’ wealth increased by $30 billion amid the pandemic, Amazon ended its $2 per hour hazard pay for workers. One executive engineer for Amazon resigned over the mistreatment of workers.

In the US, 91 nurses have died from treating patients with COVID19, while no nurses have died in Canada. Multiple nurses, doctors and hospital staff have been fired for complaining about the lack of protective equipment. An empty shoe protest was held outside the White House over the deaths of nurses.

Amalgamated Transit Workers Union members across the country have engaged in work stoppages to demand safety in mass transit. Detroit bus drivers kicked off protests on March 17, early in the pandemic, and won all of their demands around health and safety.  Birmingham drivers took action on March 23 and went back to work the following day after having won multiple safety measures. In April, drivers in Richmond, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina also won safety measures. Transit workers are now looking to redefine mass transit in the post-COVID era where confronting climate change will be important.

Groups representing workers, immigrants, and civil rights advocates are protesting reopening the economy too soon. As one advocate said, “We will not be guinea pigs.”  People want to return to work but they want the economy reopened safely. People’s lives should not be jeopardized for the economy.

These advocates have science on their side. On May 12, two top health officials in the federal government informed a Senate committee that the coronavirus is not contained and that reopening too swiftly is profoundly dangerous. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci warned that “there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control.” Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the current director of the CDC, who was hired by Trump said, “We are not out of the woods yet.”

Deborah Burger, the co-president of National Nurses United (NNU), told In These Times, “We are way premature for opening when the cases nationwide have not gone down but continue to go up,” adding, “We are still experiencing a rationing of personal protective equipment, N95 masks, and other protective gear. We just did a vigil for over 100 nurses who have died.”

#GeneralStrike2020 How to Participate

Protect Public Health before Reopening

It is a false choice to claim the country must immediately reopen despite the health risks. This is a red herring political maneuver by Trump. We can protect public health and economic security so we can quarantine safely and reopen when it is safe. This includes a public health system in every county that screens and tests for COVID19, traces the contacts of those who test positive and isolates all positives and their contacts until they are clear. It requires a universal basic income until the pandemic and recession are over. And it requires housing for all, universal health care and debt forgiveness. Essential workers must be provided with whatever they need to protect their health during the pandemic. This may include child care and separating them from their families so they can work.

President Trump’s divisive politics may mean the US will have more than 200,000 COVID deaths by the fall and that the recession has turned into a depression. His politics of disposability will result in human sacrifices for a failed restarting of the economy. Already data is being manipulated to falsely lower the number of deaths. For example, Florida is not counting reports from medical examiners. And, the loss of jobs is being underreported. In the end, none of this will hide reality.  People will see how the super-rich Wall Steeters once again cheated the rest of us while pillaging Main Street. To prevent this, we need to organize and strike now.

We are continuing to build the General Strike campaign. Join the next organizing call on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific. The featured speaker is Kali Akuno of the People’s Strike and Cooperation Jackson who will describe the organizing behind the General Strike campaign. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting for the Zoom information.

The crises of COVID and economic collapse are triggers for people to demand change as a gateway to a new and better world.  The short term demands of public safety and economic security should be followed by longer-term demands for Medicare for all with a community-controlled national health service. After the pandemic and recession, we need to restart the economy in a way that provides economic security for all by confronting inequality and protecting the planet with a Green New Deal. The realities of capitalism have been exposed as the stock market shows its disconnect to the real economy and high unemployment.

The established order has been exposed and this experience will be embedded in people’s understanding of the world. This makes the powerholders weaker than ever before and if we act in solidarity, the opportunities for positive change are great.

COVID-19: The Capitalist Emperor has no Clothes

As the capitalist emperor strolls down the avenue of U.S. public opinion butt-naked but for the first time since the 1930s, more and more people are starting to realize that they were not crazy. The brutal failures of the capitalist system that they saw were not a figment of their imagination or a diversion from their own personal failures. Instead, they were the awful reality of degradation, dehumanization and social insecurity embedded in the system. Many could see that reality but wouldn’t allow themselves to believe their own eyes and experiences. They couldn’t call it out like the kid in the fable – until now.

The claim that the U.S. was an exceptional nation and that the capitalist order represented the highest expression of human development has been shattered by the second global collapse of the capitalist order within twelve years. Millions thrown out of work, global supply chains disrupted, trillions disappeared in the capitalist casino euphemistically called the stock market… The state’s feeble and class biased response to COVID-19 has resulted in a costly lesson in class politics for the U.S. public.

The dictatorship of the capitalist class has survived because the class reality of the dictatorship has been obscured. Limited democracy, social democracy, white nationalism in the form of patriotism, the corruption of unions, the post-war compromise between capital and labor, state subsidies for the expansion of the white middle-class, debt-driven consumption and cross-class white suppression of the democratic and human rights of African Americans provided the material and ideological basis for the perpetuation of the dictatorship throughout most of the 20th century and into the 21st.

However, the systemic failure of the capitalist order trigged by the coronavirus has reinforced the growing awareness among the population that extreme wealth inequality is not just a temporary quirk that can be remedied with tax and some redistributive policies but a fundamental characteristic of the system.

For example, the debate that took place leading up to the passing of the legislation by Congress to address COVID-19’s impact dramatically exposed a capitalist class agenda that was objectively opposed to the interest of the entire working class, the poor, and the declining middle-class.

The people saw that billions of dollars were allocated to business while millions of people are facing an increasingly desperate situation. They are facing their second pay period without a full check and they are weeks away from receiving any kind of meaningful relief. But the peoples’ bills continue to mount up while the multinational corporations get bailed out. April rent and mortgage payments are due and with everyone home and eating more but with less money for food, thousands are being forced to go without or rely on food pantries. The $1,200 payoff is an insult.

And with the tragic reality of the shamefully inadequate public healthcare system in the U.S. and the rumors that private insurance healthcare premiums might increase 40% next year, the capitalists want to shut down any discussion around Medicare for All along with any discussion on nationalizing the healthcare industry.

While millions are losing their employer-based healthcare coverage, Biden says that nothing has changed his opposition to Medicare for All. Another neoliberal Democrat.

This is not being missed by many people.

The demystification of capitalism and a realistic understanding of the role of the U.S. in the global order is a good thing and that will be the silver lining coming out of this current crisis.

The precipitous decline of U.S. power and prestige is visible for all to see. The world sees that it is the Chinese who are sending ventilators to Europe. The world also sees that several states and U.S. federal agencies like FEMA are being forced to buy ventilators and face masks from China.

The world also recognizes that the U.S. lost its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, despite its enormous war machine and the failed attempt to effect regime change in Syria.

The public outside of the U.S. know that there is absolutely nothing exceptional about this nation, except for its inability, up until now, to see itself the way that millions see it – as a declining power that is morally corrupt and a danger to itself and the world.

The ability to see the emperor and all his nakedness and know they are seeing the truth, reflects the loss of what Danny Haiphong and Robert Sirvent call the ideology of “American exceptionalism and American innocence.”

That shift in consciousness is occurring slowly and unevenly. But let there be no doubt what this change in consciousness will result in. It will not mean that the rulers will surrender power to the aroused masses without a fight. No, it only means that the subjective factor – a revolutionary consciousness – will catch up with the objective factor of the ongoing crisis of the Pan-European white supremacist colonial/capitalist patriarchy. These are the conditions for a revolutionary advance.

That moment is on the horizon. Can you see it?

Capitalism is an Incubator for Pandemics: Socialism is the Solution

A new coronavirus called “SARS-CoV-2” — known colloquially by the name of the disease it causes called “coronavirus disease 2019” or “COVID-19” — is wreaking havoc around the world. In Italy, the death toll has risen to 366 today and the country just extended its quarantine measures nationwide. In China, production has shut down at factories across the country. According to the WHO, over 100,000 cases have been confirmed in over 100 countries and the death toll is now up to 3,809 as of this writing. The stock market in the U.S. fell by 7% today and  we may be headed towards another 2008-like recession.

Reports range from 200-400 (213 per WHO and 434 per NBC News) confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., but there are likely many many more that have not been detected, as health facilities still do not have a readily available rapid test for diagnosis. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) botched a first response, sending out faulty testing kits that required a recall. At this point in the U.S. the CDC is refusing to report how many have been tested, but we know the number tested in the US is extremely low largely due to the immense hurdles government officials have put in place. The FDA recently announced over 2 million tests should be shipped to labs by Monday with an additional 4 million by the end of the week. This could lead to a great increase in confirmed cases around the country. We are also seeing reproduction of racist, xenophobic tropes and attacks as fear of the epidemic grows.

The spread of the coronavirus is exposing all of the contradictions of capitalism. It shows why socialism is urgent.

Coronavirus in Capitalism

It is only going to get worse. The spread of the virus is impossible to stop — and this is due to social reasons more than biological ones. While doctors recommend that people stay home when they are feeling sick in order to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus, working-class people just can’t afford to stay home at the first sight of a cough.

Contrary to Donald Trump’s recent suggestions that many with COVID-19 should “even go to work,” the CDC recommends that those who are infected by the virus should be quarantined. This poses a problem under capitalism for members of the working class who cannot afford to simply take off work unannounced. New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio recently suggested avoiding crowded subway cars or working from home if possible, but many rely on public transit. Suggestions from government leaders show their disconnect from the working class. 58% Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings and around 40% of Americans could not afford an unexpected bill of $400. So for many, staying home or not using public transit is simply not an option.

Even more people avoid the doctor when we get sick. With or without insurance, a trip to the hospital means racking up massive medical bills. The Guardian reports that 25% of Americans say they or a family member have delayed medical treatment due to the costs of care. In May 2019, The American Cancer Society found that 56% of adults report having at least one medical financial hardship. Medical debt remains the number one cause of bankruptcy in the country. One third of all donations on the fundraising site GoFundMe go to covering healthcare costs. That is the healthcare system of the wealthiest country in the world: GoFundMe.

Clearly, this is a very dangerous scenario. Already, people are being saddled with massive bills if they seek tests for the coronavirus. The Miami Herald wrote a story about Osmel Martinez Azcue who went to the hospital for flu-like symptoms after a work trip to China. While luckily it was found that he had the flu, the hospital visit cost $3,270, according to a notice from his insurance company. Business Insider made a chart of the possible costs associated with going to the hospital for COVID-19:

Of course, these costs will be no problem for some. The three richest Americans own more wealth than the bottom 50% of Americans. The concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer capitalists is part of capitalism’s DNA. But as Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkson highlight extensively in their book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, people in more equal societies are healthier. They live longer, have lower infant mortality, and have high self-ratings of health. Inequality leads to poorer overall health.

So how does this relate to COVID-19? The main theory for these outcomes is that inequality of wealth and power in a society leads to a state of chronic stress. This wreaks havoc on bodily systems such as the cardiovascular system and the immune system, leaving individuals more susceptible to health problems. This means as societies become more and more unequal, we will see individuals more and more susceptible to infection. Capitalism’s inequality puts us all at greater risk as COVID-19 spreads.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Socialism

COVID-19 highlights the need for socialism to face epidemics like these. And by socialism, we don’t mean Medicare for All or New Deal liberalism. Medicare for All is not enough to face pandemics like the coronavirus. We mean a society in which human needs govern production, not the drive for profit. It’s a society without capitalists, where production and reproduction is democratically planned by the working class and oppressed. In this kind of society, we would be able to respond to the COVID-19 infinitely better than in capitalism.

In a socialist society, both prevention and responses to outbreaks of illness would change drastically. Supplies such as hand soap, hand sanitizer, and surface sanitizing wipes or sprays are in extremely high demand at this time. We are already seeing shortages of key supplies around the world. The need for profit maximization under capitalism has led companies to drastically raise their prices in this time of high demand. For example, the Washington Post has reported drastic increases in prices of products such as Purell Hand Sanitizer. Under capitalism, scarcity leads to greater profit.

Capitalism has led to a globalized system of production containing industries at disparate ends of the globe that truly depend on each other to function. This allows for a capitalist’s exploitation of a worker in a factory in China producing iPhones that goes unnoticed by an Apple customer here in the U.S.. It also allows corporations to drive down costs in one area of the world that may have weaker protections for workers. While this is beneficial for capitalists, outbreaks of illnesses such as COVID-19 highlight clear weaknesses in this system. A large portion of the basic materials used to make new medicines come from China. Since industry is so affected by viral spread, production of supplies has been drastically cut. This delays the ability for a rapid response in other countries such as the U.S..

A central aspect of socialism is a democratically run planned economy: an economy in which all resources are allocated according to need, instead of ability to pay. Need is decided democratically by both producers and consumers. With the means of production under workers’ control, we would be able to quickly increase production of these products in an emergency.

Furthermore, with the elimination of the barriers between intellectual and manual labor, increasing numbers of workers would be familiarized with the entire production process and ready to jump in where needed. In worker cooperatives within capitalism like MadyGraf in Argentina and Mondragon in Spain, workers already learn all aspects of production. This allows workers to shift to areas where extra effort is needed.

Socialism cannot exist in only one country, so a global planned economy would be key in these moments. If one country is experiencing a shortage, others would have to make up for it. This is key for reigning in global epidemics like the coronavirus: it will only be stopped if we stop it everywhere. In a global planned economy, this would be a much easier task.

Staying Home

If one does get sick, making a decision to protect oneself and others by taking time off should never lead them to have to worry about losing their job, paying their rent, putting food on the table, or being able to provide for their children. Under capitalism services such as housing and healthcare are reduced to commodities. This often presents people with the ultimatum: work while sick and potentially expose others, or stay home and risk losing your job.

Under socialism, the increased mechanization of production and the elimination of unnecessary jobs — goodbye advertising industry! goodbye health insurance industry! — would already drastically reduce the number of hours that we would need to work. We would be spending vast hours of the day making art or hanging out with friends and family.

During disease outbreaks, we would be able to stay home at the first sign of a cold, in addition to getting tested right away. In a planned economy, we could allocate resources where they are most needed, and take into account a decrease in the workforce due to illness.

Where are the Coronavirus Therapies

Currently, multiple for-profit companies are attempting to test (sometimes new, sometimes previously rejected and now recycled) therapies to see if they can treat or prevent COVID-19. While there are attempts to produce a COVID-19 vaccine, this vaccine would not be ready for testing in human trials for a few months according to Peter Marks, the director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Yet even last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar refused to guarantee a newly developed coronavirus vaccine would be affordable to all stating, “we can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest.” The statement is ironic to say the least coming from the former top lobbyist to Eli Lilly who served at a time when the company’s drug prices went up significantly.

Companies such as Gilead Sciences, Moderna Therapeutics, and GlaxoSmithKline all have various therapies in development. Each company’s interest in maximizing profits around their particular COVID-19 therapy has kept them from being able to pool their resources and data to develop therapies in the most expeditious manner possible. The state of COVID-19 research exposes the lies about capitalism “stimulating innovation.”

It is also important to note that much of the drug development deemed “corporate innovation” could not have been possible without taxpayer-funded government research. Bills such as the Bayh-Dole Act allow for corporations to purchase patents on molecules or substances that have been developed at publicly funded institutions such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), then jack up the prices to maximize profits. A study conducted by the Center for Integration of Science and Industry (CISI) analyzed the relationship between government funded research and every new drug approved by the FDA between 2010 and 2016. Researchers found “each of the 210 medicines approved for market came out of research supported by the NIH.”

Expropriation of the capitalists would mean the public would no longer have to subsidize private corporate profits. The nationalization of the pharmaceutical industry would allow for both intellectual and financial resources to be pooled to tackle the globe’s challenges, instead of focusing on blockbuster drugs that benefit only a few. In the case of COVID-19, we would see a mass mobilization and coordination of the world’s greatest minds to pool resources and more quickly develop effective therapies. In fact, there would likely be more doctors and scientists as people who want to study these fields are no longer confronted with insurmountable debt.

Health Care in Socialism

Under socialism, the entire healthcare industry would be run democratically by doctors, nurses, employees, and patients. This would be drastically different from the current system in which wealthy capitalists make the major decisions in hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturing firms, and insurance companies (the key players that make up the “medical industrial complex”). In the case of the COVID-19, health care would be a human right, and not a means to make money. This would allow for every individual concerned to obtain testing and treatment without fear of economic ruin. If hospitalization or quarantine was needed, a patient and family would be able to focus on what was best for their health instead of worrying whether a hospital bill would destroy them economically.

The purview of what is considered “health care” would also need to expand. An individual’s overall living situation and social environment would be key to addressing their health. This would mean a health system under socialism would address issues such as pending climate collapse. While a connection between COVID-19 and climate change has yet to be established, rising global temperatures — largely driven by 100 largest corporations and the military-industrial complex — will increase the emergence of new disease agents in the future. Shorter winters, changes in water cycles, and migration of wildlife closer to humans all increase the risk of new disease exposure.

Capitalism created the conditions of the epidemic. Capitalist “solutions” are insufficient and exacerbate the crisis, meaning more sickness and more death. Capitalism has been an incubator for the continual spread of the coronavirus. Health care under this system will always be woefully inadequate in addressing epidemics. The coronavirus highlights the fact that we must move to a more social analysis of health and well-being. We are all connected to each other, to nature, and to the environment around us. Socialism will restructure society based on those relationships.

At the same time, socialism is not a utopia. There will likely be epidemics or pandemics in socialism as well. However, a socialist society — one in which all production is organized in a planned economy under workers’ control — would best be able to allocate resources and put the creative and scientific energy of people to the task.

Six Quick Points About Coronavirus and Poverty in the US

In the United States, tens of millions of people are at a much greater risk of getting sick from the coronavirus than others.  The most vulnerable among us do not have the option to comply with suggestions to stay home from work or work remotely.  Most low wage workers do not have any paid sick days and cannot do their work from home.  The over two million people in jails and prisons each night do not have these options nor do the half a million homeless people.

One.  Thirty-four million workers do not have a single day of paid sick leave. Even though most of the developed world gives its workers paid sick leave there is no federal law requiring it for workers.  Thirty seven percent of private industry workers do not have paid sick leave including nearly half of the lowest paid quarter of workers.   That means 34 million working people have no paid sick leave at all.  As with all inequality, this group of people is disproportionately women and people of color. More than half of Latinx workers, approximately 15 million workers, are unable to earn a single sick day.  Nearly 40 percent of African American workers, more than 7 million people, are in jobs where they cannot earn a single paid sick day.

Two.  Low wage workers and people without a paid sick day have to continue to work to survive.  Studies prove people without paid sick days are more likely to go to work sick than workers who have paid sick leave.  And workers without paid sick days are much more likely to seek care from emergency rooms than those with paid sick leave.

Three.  About 30 million people in the US do not have health insurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Nearly half say they cannot afford it.   They are unlikely to seek medical treatment for flu like symptoms or seek screening because they cannot afford it.

Four.  Staying home is not an option for the homeless. There are about 550,000 homeless people in the US, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.  Homeless people have rates of diabetes, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS at rates three to six times that of the general population, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.  Shelters often provide close living arrangements and opportunities to clean hands and clothes and utensils are minimal for those on the street. Homeless people have higher rates of infectious, acute and chronic diseases like tuberculosis.

Five.  Nearly 2.2 million people are in jails and prisons every day, the highest rate in the world.  Prisoners are kept in close quarters and receive inadequate medical care.  Iran released 70,000 prisoners because of coronavirus.   Hand sanitizers are generally not allowed in jails because of their alcohol content.  Prisoners are kept in local over 3,000 different federal, state and jails and prisons, each of which has its own procedures and practices for dealing with infectious diseases.

Six.  Solutions?  For sick leave, see The National Partnership for Women & Families  which publishes several fact sheets about the need for paid sick days.  For prisons, see Prison Policy Initiative which has five specific suggestions for jails and prisons, starting with releasing as many people as possible.  New York City has developed a working paper on coronavirus for homeless shelters.  And, of course, the country needs economic justice and universally available health care.

All men are mortal

My deceased mother-in-law, not a pious person but one of utterly conventional morals, used to say when someone over 70 — she died of heart failure somewhere in her mid-70s after our divorce — was diagnosed with some serious illness, “well, at least they can’t die young.” I say she was conventional because she certainly had all the usual ideas about what to do and say among polite people. Maybe having lived through the Second World War — on the losing side — and knowing enough people who did die young just gave her a certain sobriety in matters of life and death. I mention this because in our age of exhibitionism and euphemism it is very difficult to conduct a sober, let alone rational, discussion about the circumstances by which individual human beings die.

I might add that I am twice as old as my father was when he died and six years older than my mother was. They did die young from what were most certainly occupationally-induced illnesses. But it is not the age of the decedents that concerns me here. Rather it is one of my personal intellectual and spiritual addictions: a sense of proportionality and comparability in the assessment of the world in which I live. My mentor at university wrote repeatedly that the only way we can know or examine something is by analogy. If that is true — in the sense of being a reasonable assertion and intellectually as well as sociologically plausible — then what we know about anything and what we learn depends on the quality of the analogies we draw.

In an earlier piece I speculated by analogy and subsequent analysis as to the character of what has been called the “novel corona virus” and its detection in China with all the attendant consequences. Since then those in Italy have seen their police isolate towns in Lombardy and Veneto. Outside the EU, Britain now reports its exited cases. After weeks of envious waiting by journalists in Portugal it is finally possible to report positive instead of negative tests. Here I might note that during the same waiting period the mother of a friend of mine died in hospital from sepsis after a routine operation. Masks and HAZMAT clothing were apparently not available to prevent that premature death.

After 30 years of being told by the pharmaceutical industry, the private hospital and medical technology sectors and the gangsters in and out of government commonly called bankers and economists that there is no money for physicians and nurses salaries, no money for plant maintenance, no money for affordable medication (drug subsidies dropped while manufacturers prices rose) and that everyone would just have to spend more of their decreasing wages on ever more expensive private health insurance — after all that, all that for 30 plus years in Europe, never mind the abysmal state of US “healthcare” — the US Congress can suddenly approve over USD 8 billion for corona virus work!

China was clearly confronted with an unpleasant surprise, to put it mildly. The details and origin need not be of concern here. The fact is that the government of China acted in a manner consistent with their overall social and public health policies — not just since December 2019. The result has been impressive and by analogy indicates that China has something which one used to call a civil society (as opposed to the empty slogan propagated by Messrs Soros et al.)

What does the corona virus, historically a mild and inoffensive complaint known to cause digestive problems in dogs, now mean in the Western peninsula of Eurasia? What is the significance of this now obsessive daily bean counting? Yes, bean counting. It is as if the accounting departments of all the EU health departments and the most certainly privately-partnered bean counters of Great BoJoland, had entered a primary school competition for the largest number of fingernail clippings collected.

I can already hear some readers saying — but people have died or are at risk of dying. This is no laughing matter or time for sarcasm.

On this point I disagree emphatically. Let me return to my opening argument — we learn by analogy and the quality of our analogies is crucial to any judgement as to the validity of our lessons.

I do not compare the seriously ill or the dead with anything or anyone except other seriously ill or other dead. However, I refuse to compare based on the fanaticism with which we are flogged by all public media and the forces of crime and disorder (certain agencies of the State) to persuade us that the corona virus is the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages (against which even the pope in Avignon successfully protected himself behind the walls of his palace).

What needs serious comparison here are not only the actual epidemiological statistics but also the proportionality of the entire situation. Although the statistical mortality figures published and broadcast at regular intervals suggest an illness not even as harmful as the common influenza that kills tens of thousands in the US alone — every year — the occurrence of deaths in double digits are treated as earth-shaking. I am not convinced nor should any other sober observer be.

As to proportionality, if the current hospitals operating with rubber bands and shoestrings thanks to the masters of our financial services industry are unable to prevent simple septic infections from killing: e.g., 80,000 a year in the US alone, how are we to take seriously the song and dance of HAZMAT suits and science fiction sterility (Sci-Fi, because it does not exist anywhere in real life, let alone in Western hospitals)?1

If we were, just if, to accept the premise that this “novel corona virus” is a dangerous disease — and more dangerous than any disease we are presently unwilling to prevent — then there is no reason to believe that anything that is being advertised in the Western media and propagated by the fanatical and fascist class that has decided to use the virus as a casus bellum against “John Doe” (or perhaps “J Doe” is safer in our transgender era) will be either proportional or appropriate, let alone effective for dealing with the latest news cycle “crisis”.

For 30 years, actually in Germany at least this process started when the arch-pharmaceutical lobbyist Helmut Kohl was made chancellor for the first time at the beginning of the 80s, the ordinary inhabitants of the West have been subjected to what could be called a latent form of ABC warfare.

ABC in military jargon is the abbreviation for atomic, biological and chemical — the weapons of choice in NATO, but, of course, only on paper. Atomic warfare was the deployment of the Pershing II missiles against massive popular opposition and the trade in atomic waste. Biological warfare comprised the steady campaign to tell the population that their illnesses were fake, that they were abusing the public health insurance system and this had to be stopped by cutting benefits and raising fees. The chemical aspect was more insidious because on one hand reporting of pollution simply stopped. On the other hand the IG Farben successors (the chemical/ pharmaceutical cartel that was restored in another framework by the US occupying forces) were given free rein to charge as much as they wanted for medicine, while patients were blamed for the resulting cost increases in health care. This was all marketed as “healthcare reform”.2

Healthcare reform is nothing more than a euphemism for a combined arms strategy to turn basic public health into profit streams for the usual suspects. In 1989 when the defeat of the German Democratic Republic, the Soviet Union and the entire Eastern European social welfare system became immanent, the last Kohl regime detonated the social equivalent of a neutron bomb. Worse than Chernobyl the blast created seismic ruptures throughout Western Europe’s never bomb-proof public healthcare systems.

Since then one can safely say — by analogy — that the rudimentary system which had functioned fairly well from Cork to Corinth has been so heavily irradiated that what we now see is the advanced stage of a social cancer.

This brings me to the question what does all this fanatical anti-corona activity really mean? From a policy standpoint the short-term will certainly be a massive diversion of already scarce resources for this new “crisis”. When the US Congress approves USD 8 billion for novel corona one should think about a few other figures: a single F-35 fighter aircraft costs USD 94 million, so the USG has bought 85 fighters to do something against novel corona virus. George Carlin once said that the US is very good at bombing people, especially if they are brown (or yellow).

Given that weapons and “defence” enjoy unquestioned priority in the West, maybe this is the strategy no one will admit. Perhaps that is what underlies the analogies, the HAZMAT clothes, the police cordons, the hysterical reporting and competition to prove who has the more dead to show. The Western pontificates are preaching a new crusade. We have the crusade to save the climate. We have the crusade to abolish gender and biological reproduction. We have the crusade against the East in all its manifestations. Now we have the crusade against a virus — probably created for the purpose — which will make us all willing to live behind walls or in bomb shelters — all imbued with the millennialism that has contributed so much to the homicidal character of Western culture.

But maybe, just maybe, it is just a fashionable new version of the perennial flu. And unless we are the victims of the military, the police or some miserable motorist– we won’t die young.

  1. HAZMAT, jargon, abbreviation for “hazardous materials”, notwithstanding their actual or putative effectiveness, the costumes are beloved props in the endless stream of disaster films produced and disseminated by the US propaganda ministry (aka Hollywood).
  2. In German, it was called Gesundheitsreform. The first stage was introduced in when Helmut Kohl was installed as chancellor (1982)—shortly after Ronald Reagan had been installed in the US (1980) and following the election of the faux socialist Francois Mitterand (1981), a former Vichy civil servant who enjoyed a famous relationship with the protégé of the Heidelberg SS veterans settled in the Upper Rhine. For details see the work of Bernt Engelmann; i.e., Das neue Schwarzbuch Strauß, Kohl & Co. (1983).

The US Is Not Prepared For Coronavirus: We Need To Take Action

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is in its very early stages in the United States so it is too early to predict its full impacts. The World Health Organization reports that COVID-19 has stricken more than 86,000 people around the world, killing nearly 3,000 and has spread to at least 60 countries. The global march of COVID-19 looks unstoppable.

On Friday, three new patients in California, Oregon and Washington State who had not traveled outside of the US were diagnosed with COVID-19, suggesting community transmission in the US has begun. The first death in the US happened this weekend in Washington State. The Times reports that “flawed test kits distributed to states by the CDC and strict criteria initially used for identifying potential cases may have slowed detection of the virus spreading within communities across the country.” The virus is likely to spread to every corner of the nation.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 virus, which has already wiped out $6 trillion in global wealth, $4 trillion in the US, is beginning to take effect. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones index closed down nearly 360 points on Friday. The index has dropped more than 14% from a recent high, making this the market’s worst week since the 2008 global financial crisis. Europe’s economy is already teetering on the edge of recession. If COVID-19 becomes a global pandemic, economists expect the impact could be much worse, with the US and other global economies falling into recession. The White House is considering tax cuts and pressure on the Federal Reserve in response, but these are not likely to provide relief.

The real issue is health. COVID-19 will be a challenge for the fragmented US health system where tens of millions of people do not have adequate access to healthcare. The US is poorly prepared for an epidemic. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates the flu has resulted in between 9 million to 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 to 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths annually since 2010. And, that is not an epidemic like COVID-19 could become. COVID-19 has a 2 percent death rate, 20 times higher than the influenza virus.

If the virus spreads, it will highlight the danger of healthcare inequality in the US as millions of people without insurance will delay seeking care and spread the disease to family, neighbors, and co-workers. The profit-driven system will make access to medicine expensive and out-of-reach-for many. And the lack of paid sick leave will make it impossible for workers, particularly in the service sector, to stay home and avoid infecting others. The demand for National Improved Medicare for all and other necessities must be stronger.

At a news conference at the Washington state Department of Health’s Public Health Laboratories on Tuesday, Dr. Satish Pillai of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention joined other health professionals to discuss what they know about the first confirmed U.S. case of 2019 novel coronavirus, discovered Monday in a Snohomish County resident. At left are Washington state Health Secretary Dr. John Wiesman and Gov. Jay Inslee. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

The US Is Not Well Prepared For A Viral Epidemic

A 2019 report by CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security found “the United States remains woefully ill-prepared to respond to global health security threats.” The report predicted what is occurring now in our globalized world: ” Outbreaks proliferate that can spread swiftly across the globe and become pandemics, disrupting supply chains, trade, transport, and ultimately entire societies and economies.”

The report recommended building the response to global health pandemics at the National Security Council and other agencies, increasing investment in preparedness, producing vaccines and other measures. Rather than heeding these recommendations, the Trump administration has done the opposite. In May 2018, Rear Adm. Tim Ziemer, the head of global health security on the White House’s National Security Council, left the Trump administration,  one day after an Ebola outbreak was declared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This was part of the entire pandemic response chain of command being removed.  Also in 2018, Trump fired Tom Bossert, homeland security adviser responsible for coordinating the response to global pandemics. His job has remained vacant.

While Trump has made serious errors, the 2019 report points to successive administrations writing, “Over several successive administrations, the White House has seldom exercised sufficiently authoritative, high-level leadership, creating acute threats to U.S. national interests when dangerous outbreaks occur at home and abroad. U.S. programs on global health security are fragmented, scattered across diverse executive agencies, and not clearly prioritized.”

The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board  of the World Health Organization and World Bank found the threat from pandemics “is growing, and the world is not prepared.” In  October 2019, the Global Health Security Index concluded that “collectively, international preparedness is weak.”

This week, National Nurses United sounded the alarm that the US is not prepared for the spread of the COVID-19 virus. They point to many problems including the lack of health care workers. In one case at the UC Davis Medical Center, a “patient admitted to the facility on Feb. 19 has now led to the self-quarantine at home of at least 36 RNs and 88 other health care workers.” One case resulted in 124 health professionals being unavailable.

National Nurses United is conducting a survey of registered nurses across the country on hospital preparedness and will be releasing those results next week.  Preliminary results from more than 1,000 nurses in California are worrisome:

  • Only 27 percent report that there is a plan in place to isolate a patient with a possible novel coronavirus infection. 47 percent report they don’t know if there is a plan.
  • Only 73 percent report that they have access to N95 respirators on their units; 47 percent report access to powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) on their units.
  • Only 27 percent report that their employer has sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) stock on hand to protect staff if there is a rapid surge in patients with possible coronavirus infections; 44 percent don’t know.

Inadequate training and equipment are already a serious problem. A whistleblower reported that a dozen workers were “improperly deployed” to two California military bases receiving Americans evacuated from coronavirus-impacted areas. They were given neither training nor protective gear for handling the possibly high-risk patients. The whistleblower alleged that HHS officials shot down her concerns and on February 15 threatened to fire her if she did not accept a reassignment. The workers who may have been exposed to the coronavirus were able to travel freely among the public, the complaint reportedly said.

The New York Times did an in-depth analysis of how prepared the US is for a coronavirus outbreak and found many areas of vulnerability including critical shortages of respirators and masks.  They note that a 2005 CDC report estimated that a severe influenza pandemic would require mechanical ventilators for 740,000 critically ill people. The US only has 62,000 full-featured ventilators available in hospitals across the country. They also report there could be acute shortages of health workers to operate ventilators and care for patients, hospital beds, masks, and other protective equipment.

Because of shortfalls, some hospitals are making provisions for rationing including removing some patients from ventilators to make way for others presumed to have a better chance of survival. Further, plans would limit access of some patients “from critical care or even hospitalization during a peak pandemic based on criteria such as their age or an underlying chronic disease.” Of course, rural and poor communities will be impacted the most by lack of resources.

The US has a total of 6,146 hospitals with 924,107 beds. There are 36,353,946 admissions annually. In rural towns across the US, communities are in crisis due to hospital closings. There have also been hospital closings in urban areas.  The Times reports Gary Cox, the Oklahoma health commissioner, said reopening rural hospitals that had closed in recent years was an option under consideration and the state was also exploring the idea of using recreational vehicles to house people who have tested positive for the virus but do not need hospital care. The DoD and CDC have approved at least 15 US military bases as quarantine camps.

Another major problem area is the accurate communication of information. The CDC has a 65-page manual on how the agency should communicate during a health crisis, which includes sharing scientific information “in an open, timely, and appropriate way.” But, the White House has taken over communication around COVID-19. The Washington Post reported that a government employee faced retaliation for raising concerns about unsafe assessment of potentially-infected individuals. The New York Times reports that public communications about the virus from CDC scientists will need “clearance.”  Anthony Fauci, a senior NIH official and physician-scientist, had to cancel several television appearances after the vice president gave him a gag order.

COVID-19 Demonstrates the Need for Improved Medicare for All

Universal access to healthcare through National Improved Medicare for All (NIMA) would make a tremendous difference in both controlling the spread of the virus as well as making sure people receive the treatment they need. Today, more than 27 million people in the US do not have insurance.  Tens of millions more are underinsured – 45 percent of working-age adults, or 87 million people, were either underinsured or had no coverage for at least part of the last year.

People with inadequate insurance have financial barriers to healthcare. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports the average deductible among covered workers is $1,500 for an individual and $3,000 for a familyTwenty percent have high deductible plans that cost $3000 for an individual or $5000 for a family. Half of US adults say they or a family member put off or skipped some sort of health care in the last year. Even for people who obtain insurance through the Affordable Care Act, the average deductible is $4,000.

As a result, even if you are among the small percentage of the population that has very robust health insurance, you are at risk for getting COVID-19 because people with symptoms will not go to the doctor to be tested and treated because they fear the risk of bankruptcy. Healthcare costs are the major cause of bankruptcy in the United States with 530,000 bankruptcies annually linked to medical illness.

The signs of COVID-19 are highly non-specific and include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and viral pneumonia. A diagnostic test is a key tool in determining whether someone has the virus along with clinical observation, the patient’s medical and travel history, and contacts. At the low end, the cost of the test is $250, and at the high end, it’s $1,500 or more.

The case of a Miami man shows why underinsured people will not seek healthcare. He had viral symptoms and went to be tested. He tested negative but received a bill from his insurance company for $3,270.   He would be responsible for $1,400 of that bill, but the insurer required additional documentation: three years of medical records to prove the flu he got didn’t relate to a preexisting condition. This individual is typical of many people in the US. He earns about $55,000 a year working for a medical device company that does not offer health insurance. He purchased an inexpensive policy that cost $180 per month for a limited plan.

NIMA would ensure that every person had access to necessary tests, care, and medications including a coronavirus vaccine when one is developed. The government is going to invest at least $1 billion in the development of a vaccine but Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, said they could not ensure it would be affordable saying, “we can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest.” Azar served as the top lobbyist for Eli Lilly before becoming president of the drug company’s US operations in 2012. Azar earned nearly $2 million during his last year at Lilly at a time when the cost of its drugs went up significantly; e.g., insulin sold by the company more than doubled in price The actions of Lilly during his tenure resulted in a lawsuit filed in 2017.

Azar is emblematic of the pharmaceutical industry, one of the most profitable sectors of the economy. He is one of many people on President Trump’s coronavirus task force who has conflicts of interest due to ties to for-profit healthcare. Another task force member is Joseph Grogan, a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences before he joined the Trump administration as director of the Domestic Policy Council.  Gilead announced last week that it would be starting two clinical trials of an antiviral drug that could be used to treat the virus and the company’s stock price surged. Of the task force’s 16 members — 17, if you include Vice President Mike Pence, only four have any training in science or medicine.

Another member of the task force, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, said the coronavirus virus created business opportunities as it “will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.” The first action of Pence, who leads the task force, was to go on the Rush Limbaugh show to praise the actions of President Trump and to reassure the financial markets. It is evident from Pence’s actions and the make-up of the commission that the response to COVID-19 is more about politics than health.

When a public health system like NIMA is put in place, then other policies change. Employment policies would make a tremendous difference in stopping the spread of the virus. A study of 22 countries by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found all countries offered at least nine sick days with full pay, the US does not require any paid sick time for workers. On average, Americans who do have paid sick days are entitled to up to seven days per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, nearly four in 10 workers—43.5 million people—don’t have any paid sick leave.

Research shows that flu rates fell by about 40 percent in US cities that mandated sick pay. People who cannot stay home when they have symptoms spread illness to co-workers, customers, and others they come into contact with. People in the US want paid sick leave and family leave, but corporate America blocks it. With the potential of COVID-19, the country will pay a heavy price for that greed. The US and other nations have implemented mandatory 14-day quarantine measures for returning travelers and residents who may have been exposed to the virus in China. Without sick leave, how will workers tolerate being quarantined?

The Fate Of COVID-19 In The United States Is In Our Hands

COVID-19 is expected to be widespread in the United States by mid-March. Without competent leadership and a universal healthcare system, it is up to us to take action in our communities. One of the simplest things to do is to make sure people are aware of how the virus spreads and how to protect themselves. It is spread by droplets that land on surfaces when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can stay alive for several days on surfaces. If someone touches a contaminated surface and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes, they can become infected.

We should all avoid coughing or sneezing openly. Use a tissue or your clothing if that’s all you have. Wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes. Stay in if you have symptoms of a cold and avoid people who have cold symptoms. Contact your doctor if your symptoms worsen. While most people who contract COVID-19 will recover from it, the death rate is much higher than the flu virus, which has already killed 14,000 people in the US this season, and so we must do what we can to limit its spread. People who are older and have compromised health are the most vulnerable. Check the CDC for up to date information.

We must also be prepared for a possible recession. It is time now to reach out to others in your community to make plans for mutual aid to reduce the suffering that will occur. This time, it may be much worse because we have high debt and a weaker economic foundation. But together, we can get through this and use it as an opportunity to demand more such as National Improved Medicare for All, public banks, a stronger social safety net and diversion of military spending to transition to a green energy economy.

NOTE: The article was edited on March 2, 2020 to reflect that while President Trump has consistently proposed major cuts in funding to the CDC, Congress has not approved those cuts. However, prior to President Trump, plans were put in place to cut grants to states and local areas for disease management.