Mar 2, 2020
Evidence is mounting that the coronavirus is spreading in several communities in the United States. Scientists say they had found that the virus had already been spreading for six weeks in Washington state and they estimated that up to 1,500 people may have already been infected. How contagious or deadly will the epidemic be in this country? How long will it last? No one can say, because it is caused by a new coronavirus.
But it’s an epidemic of some sort. And the U.S. healthcare system is completely unprepared to deal with it. Top U.S. officials say it openly: “We’re amazingly unprepared,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness tothe New York Times on March 1.
This is not because of a lack of money. The U.S. pours more than four trillion dollars, or almost 20% of the entire economy, into health care spending every year. And the U.S. certainly has top notch doctors and scientists, modern hospitals and a sprawling health infrastructure. Some of the best in the world.
But almost all of this is set up for the benefit of the capitalist class, so that the capitalist class can make huge profits out of health care, that is, out of peoples’ illnesses and conditions. The capitalists do that through their gigantic insurance companies, hospital conglomerates and multi-national pharmaceutical corporations.
Any extra costs that get in the way of the capitalists making an immediate profit don’t get funded. That’s why this gigantic, extremely costly healthcare infrastructure is so woefully unprepared for the epidemic. It costs money to stock extra equipment in the event of an epidemic. For example, according to government estimates made in 2005, a severe influenza pandemic would require mechanical ventilators for 740,000 critically ill people. As of today, there are only 62,000 ventilators in hospitals across the country—that is, less than 10% of what they said they would need.
Over the years, various government agencies have cut public health spending to the bone. Today, there are 50,000 fewer people working in public health than there were 20 years ago. Public health serves as the front line of any major health care emergency for the community. But it has been slashed repeatedly in order to free up more money for the government to hand over to the capitalist class through tax breaks and subsidies.
And when people get sick, they may very well have no place to go. Inside big cities as well as big stretches of rural and semi-rural areas there are no more public hospitals, and few, if any, clinics. These areas are called “healthcare deserts,” because there are not enough people with coverage to pay the bills. At the same time, hospitals are already stretched to the limit, often run without enough staff to care for patients and maintain the hospitals. Emergency departments are regularly jammed with surges of patients, who have to wait for hours or days for treatment, often for life threatening conditions or diseases.
Moreover, there has been little or no planning or preparation on how to limit the spread of the epidemic. Every company should have an epidemic plan in place in order for workers not to infect others. Schools and universities should do the same thing.
If the epidemic becomes widespread, big parts of the population should be quarantined, either by keeping them home or in big centers for weeks at a time. This would mean essential services such as the systems of water, sewage, electricity, garbage, would have to be intact and in good working order.
Where have preparations been made in this country for public workers to continue on the job and be protected? Where will we get the supply chains, with enormous convoys of food and medicine, just in case they are necessary?
In this country, nothing has been set up to even do what was accomplished in China, which not only slowed the spread of the virus, but saved countless thousands of lives.
The fact that this health care system and the entire society is operated for profit puts us all in tremendous danger if a severe epidemic does break out in this country.