Welcome to Coffee Thoughts, April 2020: The Social Distancing Edition. Because hey, you know, that’s what all of us are doing. And if you’re not —and you’re able to — you should be. Because seriously, guys, this COVID-19 pandemic is no joke.
Here in the U.S., the COVID-19 Recession Has Arrived …
… and the overall picture is, perhaps, even more dire than anyone could have anticipated. At the time of this writing, over 50,000 people have been recorded as dying from COVID-19, and those numbers are only going to rise. Unemployment is hitting record levels. People are struggling to get by. Not every nation is able to socially distance to the extent of the more privileged ones, and those populations are going to be hit even harder: that means less wealthy countries are going to face epidemics on a level far more deadlier than here in the U.S., and it’s deeply depressing to watch, particularly in nations with leaders that aren’t taking this seriously enough. This is a global health catastrophe, incomparable to anything most people today have experienced, and things are only going to get worse before they get better.
Here in the U.S., the many flaws in our healthcare system are showing their ugly face. The U.S. doesn’t have universal healthcare, and the problems with that have become horrendously obvious: it’s disgusting, frankly, that a woman who was treated for COVID-19 then received a hospital bill of almost $35,000, according to Time. It’s disgusting that people have to be terrified of getting laid off, not just because of the loss of income, but because this would leave them with no health insurance if they, their spouse, or their children do get sick. It’s disgusting that god-only-knows how many people aren’t getting tested because they’re afraid of the bill.
In a country this wealthy, things shouldn’t be like that. I’ve written (and spoken) many times about how desperately the U.S. needs a universal healthcare system — ala the Medicare for All plans promoted by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and so on — which, politics aside, is an initiative that the majority of the American people support. And seriously, if there was ever a time where the need for universal healthcare was most obvious, it’s now. When you desperately need medical care, you can’t go shopping for the best deal. When people are dying, nobody should be be profiting from it. And the general excuses about “can we afford it?” look particularly inane now, as it becomes clear just how important government spending has become in combating COVID-19. As I wrote on Truthout in 2016:
I’ve watched patients die from preventable conditions because they couldn’t afford treatment. In nursing homes, sick people are warehoused into less-than-adequate conditions, with families forced to pay yearly costs of $90,000 a year to put their loved one in a shared room where they and the 30+ other patients on their unit will be taken care of by only two aides. Because of money issues, people lose limbs that they shouldn’t need to lose. Patients decline when they shouldn’t have to. An increasing number of people don’t go to the doctor, even when they develop terrifying symptoms such as mysterious lumps in their throat, because they just can’t afford it.
Yes, having universal healthcare wouldn’t have prevented COVID-19 from coming to the United States, though the situation certainly could have been a lot better if the current administration had taken the threat seriously from the start, to say nothing of the fact that public health agencies like the CDC have been direly underfunded, year after year. However, the U.S.’s ability to climb out of this hole is deeply impacted by our ruthless, for-profit neoliberal healthcare system, as the Guardian has explained. If there was ever a time to take a long, hard look at our issues and make big changes, it’s now…
… or, well, actually, the time to make changes was yesterday, or last year, or a decade ago, but until time travel comes around? It’s now.
Remember the most vulnerable populations, okay? Healthcare workers, the homeless, the elderly, and more.
Speaking as a former healthcare worker — and as someone who is married to a current healthcare worker, my wife, who is actually working in a hospital emergency department as I write this — it’s so, so, so important for people to understand what’s at stake here, take social distancing seriously, and do everything possible to flatten the curve. COVID-19 cases haven’t even peaked yet, and preventing more infections is the only way to keep the U.S. medical system from getting overrun by cases, impacting not just COVID-19 patients, but anyone else in need of medical care.
Every day that my wife is working, I’m terrified at the thought of her getting this. Would we survive? Probably, because we’re young, healthy, and not particularly at-risk. But that’s not guaranteed. And regardless of our personal safety, it’s terrifying to consider the plight of marginalized communities out there, across the world, who aren’t so lucky: from people in refugee camps, to the homeless population, to working class immigrant populations, to those with prior health conditions, to the newly unemployed, to the residents of nursing homes — the latter of whom are an elderly, immunocompromised population packed into close quarters, facing not just a high risk of COVID-19 infection, but the psychological toll of quarantine.
Again, though, the best thing that everyone can do right now is stay at home, self-quarantine, and buy medical workers the time they need so that hospitals don’t get overwhelmed. This is the time to catch up on Netflix. It’s the time to work on all those old art projects you’ve been putting off. You get the idea.
For U.S. readers, if you’re looking to get a sense of how your state is doing at flattening the curve, I highly recommend you check out the state-by-state projections available on Covid Act Now. For example, here is the current figures from my location, here in New Hampshire, where we currently have a “stay-at-home” order:
Anyhow, best wishes to all of you out there reading this. Hope you’re staying safe, healthy, and well.