By Carlton Joseph
Normally I am an optimist but past experiences in the United States health care industry and recent decisions by the Trump administration, have left me somewhat pessimistic. Initially, I believed that COVID-19 would have had a humanizing effect on conservative politicians but it has not. Instead, they have become emboldened in their “profit over people” position and have decided that the deaths of the elderly and poor citizens are just collateral outcomes in this health crisis.
Indiana Republican Congressman Trey Hollingsworth said recently that he’s willing to push the good life over a longer life. “We are going to have to look Americans in the eye and say, we are making the best decisions for the most Americans possible, and the answer to that is to get Americans back to work, to get Americans back to their businesses. It is always the American government’s position to say, in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life, of American lives, we have to always choose the latter,” he pointed out. I totally disagree with this ignoramus.
The United States has the highest recorded COVID-19 death toll in the world, topping 35,000. Over 600,000 cases have been identified nationwide, but testing and tracing remain limited, making the exact number of cases unknown. However, President Trump signed a Presidential Disaster Declaration for all 50 states, claiming that “we are winning, and will win, the war on the Invisible Enemy!” I’m confused.How are we winning?
Black Americans are disproportionately dying from the virus across the country. In Michigan and Illinois, black Americans make up 14 to 15 per cent of the population but account for 41 per cent of the COVID-19 deaths. In Chicago, Black Americans account for 70 per cent of the city’s deaths but are less than 33 per cent of the population. In Louisiana, Black Americans make up just about a third of the population but 70 per cent of the COVID-19-related deaths. Black Americans are dying at a greater rate than the rest of the population.Is that how we are winning?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US top infectious disease expert, explained the reason for the racial outcome disparity. He said that we have known that diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and asthma are disproportionately afflicting the minority populations, particularly African Americans. These lead to death with COVID -19. He concluded that “it was very sad, but it’s nothing we can do about it right now except to try and give them the best possible care.” At least he was honest about the situation.
Of course, Trump did not create these conditions. They are the result of environmental racism fueled by the profit motive that creates disposable people and communities. African Americans make up a disproportionate number of the 87 million people in the U.S. who are under-insured or lack health insurance and who occupy the lowest paid jobs. Many jobs today deemed “essential,” pay minimum or low wage. Does “essential” t mean willing to die so that the rich could live ?
Toxic waste dumps, petroleum processing companies, hog farms, garbage dumps, buildings with lead paint and asbestos, and the highways pumping out millions of tons of pollution every day are located in minority communities. Water systems are compromised, resulting in black and brown children being poisoned. However, the hospitals and clinics are closed because conservatives probably believe that poverty stricken black and brown communities are expendable.
Since the lockdown, Trump has been having daily briefings that display his ignorance and arrogance. Rejecting medical advice, he asserts that he wants the economy open by May 1 with a “big bang” while
medical experts warn that attempts to reopen things too quickly could lead to a resurgence of COVID-19. Because there is no vaccine for the coronavirus, medical professionals battling the disease are at risk and a surge of cases combined with a shortage of protective gear and intensive care beds could overwhelm hospitals. The economy will have to shut down again.
While acknowledging the importance of getting the US. back to work, governors and mayors said that public health concerns were their priority. If these concerns are a priority, we have to make sure we can aggressively test people.
To do this we need the infrastructure for producing large amounts of test kits and people to be trained in collecting samples and contact tracing. We must certify university labs so that people can have options for testing other than Lab Corp or Quest. Our goal should be to get test results within four to eight hours. Finally, we must implement a procurement strategy similar to the Department of Defense. This is war; we must have an efficient and effective system for procuring everything we need to win this war.
And to win this war the US also needs a stable leader. To my dismay, Trump announced that he was halting funding to the World Health Organization (WHO). World leaders, senior officials, international organizations, experts and entrepreneurs have expressed their dismay over what they said was Trump’s willingness to hamper the WHO just when the world needs it the most.
Philanthropist, Bill Gates tweeted that halting the WHO’s funding was “as dangerous as it sounds”. He noted that its work “is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped, no other organization can replace it.The world needs the WHO now more than ever.”
Let’s hope that good sense prevails and the funding is not halted. Trump has withdrawn the US from the Climate Change Forum and now WHO. Does he understand the geopolitics of such decisions? Does he understand that he is ceding US power and influence ?
The International Monetary Fund predicts the world economy will shrink by three per cent this year–the biggest downturn since the Great Depression. I am more concerned with the population shrinkage due to the virus. There are some promising developments.
The Department of Health and Human Services awarded GM a contract worth $489.4 million to make 30,000 ventilators by the end of August. GM says they will achieve that goal. The Pentagon awarded a contract worth $415 million to Battelle Memorial Institute for 60 decontaminating machines. The machines will disinfect N95 masks and allow reuse up to 20 times.
There are no lobbyists who are pressing for just the greater good of the public, but I am optimistic. A country that spends billions each year on military equipment that can only be used in war must realize that its military and civilian personnel must be healthy and alive. It must spend millions to test its citizens and procure the PPE to ensure that the economy can be reopened successfully.
Finally, we must all work together, nationally and globally, to win this war. We must value all individuals and populations equally, rectify historical injustices and provide resources according to need.
(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington DC, is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)