By Jim Goodman
Rev. Marlin Lavanhar of Tulsa Oklahoma notes that “There are a lot of people who are fasting right now in Oklahoma, not by choice.” Tulsa is not alone, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, with limited or no income, 16.5% of the US population face food insecurity during the pandemic.
The CARES act passed last March directed funding to medical facilities and public health programs, provided direct cash payments and additional unemployment benefits to workers who were laid off or lost their jobs due to workplace shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Additionally, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provided forgivable loans to small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.
As the pandemic worsens beyond what was seen when the CARES act was passed and as its funding runs out, why are Republicans so opposed passing new stimulus funding? Passing the National Defense Authorization Act for the military— not a problem, but passing another bill to help average Americans buy food, pay rent, get medical care and possibly remain economically intact, –that’s a bridge too far for Republicans. Rather than vote on a new COVID stimulus bill they attempted to adjourn the House. Just like Senate majority leader McConnell who, once a new Supreme Court justice was confirmed, sent everyone home till after the November elections with no financial relief for Americans in sight.
If we truly want to get the pandemic under control and save lives, people must stay home. To avert an economic meltdown people must also remain financially viable, that was the intent of the CARES act, –-simple enough concept, yet congress, at least the Republican side of the aisle, refuses. In the end, they will have to pass something and of course it will provide inadequate help to those who need it most yet, odds are, it will include plenty of liability protection for corporations.
If an employee is temporarily removed from the workplace to address a particular situation, such as say, an officer involved police shooting, they are put on administrative leave (pending investigation) with pay and benefits. The term administrative leave has never been applied in a pandemic situation where there is a desperate societal need to keep people home with pay, at least in this case we know those employees are innocent.
Wearing a mask has, sadly, become a political act, which it should not be, nor should it be a partisan act, it is simply a public health strategy. Some consider wearing a mask an impingement on their freedom, or worse, by disparaging masks they are showing fealty to their president. Similarly, the Governor of Oklahoma declares a day of prayer and fasting for those affected by the pandemic, that’s fine, yet he refuses to declare a mask mandate, which would clearly be a far more effective response to the pandemic,— go figure.
Just before Thanksgiving Dr. Anthony Fauci stated, “What we don’t want to see is yet another surge superposed upon the (current) surge.” He was hoping his advice, that people would forgo traveling over the holidays, would be heeded. It wasn’t and probably won’t be at Christmas either. So, America could be edging into what Dr. Robert Redfield believes will be “the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”
There is still a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), which could have been corrected, had the Administration effectively used the Defense Production Act (DPA) early and often to actually produce PPE. Yet most of the CARES Act allocation for PPE allocated under the DPA was spent not on medical equipment, but military equipment, because the Pentagon decided they could.
Moving deeper into this dark winter, as hospitals fill to capacity still facing equipment shortages, the most dire shortage may be that of medical professionals who can care for patients. Hospital rooms can be re-purposed to intensive care, overflow convalescent centers can be set up, but without trained professionals to staff them, the system crashes. No one can answer the question of how exhausted hospital staff will be relieved or if need be, replaced. Can early graduation from medical schools, National Guard personnel and retired health care workers fill the void? Will they be qualified?
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Cuba offered to send 1,600 medics to Houston to help with medical relief efforts, the offer was, of course, rejected by the Bush administration. Then as now, politics trumps humanitarianism.
Would Cuba send assistance as we face exploding COVID-19 case numbers? According to Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Ambassador to Canada, “I am sure that if the current United States government asks us for assistance to confront COVID-19, Cuba would provide it.” But that will never happen, not only would it be a personal affront to the ego of President Trump, but it would be in direct conflict with his four year effort to get rid of every trace of the Obama administration, including the beginnings of normalized relations with Cuba. The Trump Administration goes so far as to discourage other countries in dire need of humanitarian aid from accepting help from the Nobel nominated doctors of Cuba. Falsely calling them “slaves” to their government and agents of Communism, the administration again, demonstrates that politics is more important than public health.
Despite the fact that the US has more COVID-19 cases and deaths than any country in the world, the Trump Administration has, in addition to ignoring the pandemic as being no worse than the flu, opted out of the World Health Organization (WHO) efforts to develop a vaccine for world wide distribution. While it appears that the US will have effective vaccines available going into 2021, will those vaccines be shared with the rest of the world? Or, because the US opted out of the WHO vaccine development, will our vaccines be effective against mutated COVID strains from other parts of the world as we move into 2021?
Globalization has made the world a small place, both in terms of the spread of a pandemic and in terms of what is clearly most important to the Trump Administration, –-global trade and corporate profit. Suppose our vaccine works as we all hope it will, in economic terms, can we “return to normal” if the rest of the world still struggles?
Jim Goodman is a retired dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin. His work has appeared in The Progressive, Jacobin, In These Times, The Washington Post, the Progressive Populist, CounterPunch and The Wisconsin Examiner.
Top image credit: U.S. Army Spc. Ashley Jacobs, a combat medic with the Delaware Army National Guard Medical Detachment, loads a vehicle during a drive-thru food pantry on the grounds of Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware/Public Domain.
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