When it comes to the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States right now, where does one even start?
The U.S. has surpassed one million COVID deaths, a milestone that many knew was coming but felt helpless to prevent. Millions are looking at the corrupt, unchanged healthcare system as well as the government and big business’ favoring of corporate profit over human life – and are unsure of what to do from here.
Lack of Clarity on Data, Safety Measures
Positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are still ticking up. The data around hospitalizations, however, is collected differently from state to state and even hospital to hospital: some people are being hospitalized for COVID while others are seeking treatment for a separate condition and happen to test positive. In some places, these may both be recorded as COVID hospitalizations, skewing numbers on hospitalizations among the fully vaccinated.
New emerging variants also mean that any sickness, no matter the symptoms, could potentially be COVID. Someone with the newest Omicron variant likely won’t experience the same symptoms as with the Delta variant. That’s how subvariants work, anyway: as the virus keeps spreading and evolving among the vaccinated and unvaccinated, new strains pop up, and their changing symptoms and rates of transmission continue the cycle of pain and unpredictability. There is little public health information about which symptoms to watch out for, and growing fear as we wonder if our vaccines designed for three variants ago will still be effective for the new ones.
Most states have dropped all COVID public safety measures like mask-wearing, social distancing, and testing requirements. Even as cases surge, there are few public safety mandates stopping the spread. Additionally, methods of tracking cases are becoming increasingly unavailable: lab programs are shutting down, dedicated testing sites are disappearing, and people getting home antigen tests over lab and pharmacy PCR tests make publicly-reported data hard to come by. Uninsured people don’t have a real choice: a home test kit costs $15 while a lab can charge $150 out-of-pocket. Labs have made billions off of COVID testing, and have put us in a situation that makes detecting future surges even more difficult.
But in the world around us, we see people are getting sick and calling out of work, scrambling to find appointments for the more-reliable PCR tests, and doing their best to do their own contact tracing. This, while trying to fill their tank with gas at $4.60 a gallon (on average though in many places it’s much higher), trying to pay for rising food prices, and trying to stay afloat as inflation subsumes workers’ stagnant wages.
The lack of travel safety measures and the U.S.’ failure to contain the pandemic has had global consequences, of course. An estimated 2.5 billion people across the world have not received a single vaccine dose. A combination of stalled production, export bans, and vaccine hoarding by wealthy countries has left the poorest out to dry.
Priorities: War Spending, Not Pandemic Relief
Ordinary people are in crisis but the political establishment and Wall Street have been dragging us on a nationwide “the pandemic is over” tour. On a federal level, President Biden just sent an additional $40 billion to Ukraine, which he instructed Congress to approve before passing a new round of COVID relief funding. Somehow, the ruling class has an arsenal of cash for imperialist warmongering, but act broke when it comes to the question of public health. For all the valid criticisms of Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic, it’s now clear that the Biden administration took Trump’s “bare minimum” baton and ran with it. The only major difference between these two administrations’ response to the COVID crisis is that, now, some White House staffer is writing the president’s tweets for him.
In a callous move, Biden has urged cities to spend their COVID relief on police budgets and “crime prevention” – two years into this ongoing pandemic and just weeks before the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar recently tweeted that over 500 police officers died in the line of duty last year. What she failed to mention: among these, COVID was the leading cause of death. The Democrats’ priorities are clear: they have the money for militaristic aims like war and police, but can’t – won’t – spend another cent on the millions who are struggling to get out of this virus’ grip.
Where does one start on the CDC, an institution which was regarded as the leading public health agency in the world, but made bumbling mistakes and sent mixed messaging throughout this crisis, and has since broken the public’s trust? Should we start there? The CDC’s rollout for a second booster is unclear, with the CDC suggesting people (especially the elderly and immunocompromised) examine their own medical history and make a decision about boosters after considering “how likely they are to get sick.” But even then, there’s hesitation to push for more boosters when the U.S. government may be rationing vaccine supplies. The seasonal flu is, similar to COVID, a virus that mutates every year. Each year, the vaccine changes to reflect the new variant. This is exactly the model we need applied to COVID, yet the mismanagement and profit-hoarding of big pharma make that far from a guarantee.
Workers on Shaky Ground
Let’s review what workers have lived through these past two years: a hellish merry-go-round of closings and reopenings, layoffs and lack of workplace protections, the economic whiplash of lockdowns, lulls in surges, mismanaged mandates, and the push and pull between federal, state, and employer expectations. It continues to be disorienting. Now factor in seeing a loved one among the one million lives that were lost.
And for those that recover from the illness, “recovery” is a complicated concept. Long COVID is being diagnosed in more and more adults, where symptoms continue long after the initial infection – lasting weeks, months, and in some cases, years since they first got sick. It’s been challenging for healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat, but the symptoms can be debilitating: fatigue that affects daily life, heart palpitations, symptoms worsening after physical or mental effort, shortness of breath, and the now well-known “brain fog.” The question of a massive influx in need for disability benefits and job retraining (for those who were once able to do their jobs but, because of their condition, can no longer) remains unanswered. So does the question of what mental health support is available to those experiencing the loss of their professional career and physical and/or mental capabilities due to long COVID. Our economic and healthcare systems have set us up for failure.
Foundational Change Needed
This is not to say that working people have failed here. It is a total failure of the system itself. One million have died, hospital staff worked to their breaking point, educators worked beyond theirs, too; parents continue to miss work, children continue to miss school, and still no improvement to our healthcare or education systems. Still no Medicare For All or cancellation of student loan debt, which would improve our societal conditions in ways a for-profit system never can. The capitalist class, the billionaires, and corporations are okay with the status quo: this capitalist system was built for them. But are ordinary people – who will get the short end of the stick every time – supposed to be okay with no change after all this illness, instability, and death?
The health and safety of working-class and poor people will never be a legitimate concern to those that profit off our suffering. It will take a revolutionary mass movement to rebuild society on the basis of human need. We need to fight to bring into public ownership and democratic control the profit-hungry industries that are destroying our health and the health of our planet. So when it comes to how things are going with COVID, start where any ordinary person should: demanding system change.