Mar 16, 2020
More than two months after China posted the genome of the coronavirus and other countries started testing their populations widely, only 20,000 people have been tested in the United States.
The lack of testing means that people infected by the virus have been unknowingly infecting others. This has almost surely enabled the disease to spread at a rapid rate—though since there are so few tests, no one knows for sure!
The tests were supposed to be provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which is a part of the federal government’s public healthcare system. But the public health system has been deprived of resources that would have allowed it to carry out its work.
Tests already exist in South Korea, Germany and China. These countries have been producing a large number of tests, and offered to sell them to the U.S. But the federal government declined these offers. Instead, it decided to contract out the work and profits to U.S. companies, even though it meant big delays in getting people tested.
And so the entire medical system is functioning in the dark.
A big, sudden influx of new patients, many of whom are very sick, may very well overwhelm a healthcare system without any extra capacity, no “surge” capacity, as officials say. So, there won’t be enough doctors and staff, along with ICU’s, hospital beds, protective clothing, masks, ventilators and medicine to deal with all those new patients, condemning many of them to perhaps die, when they could have been saved.
Corporate profits counted more than saving lives.
From the beginning of this crisis the U.S. government has been in a big hurry to serve capitalist profits. Trump immediately scheduled meetings with executives from various industries and sectors, including the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, financial companies, airlines and health insurance, promising them big contracts, bailouts and subsidies.
As for actually putting resources into fighting the virus, Trump and Congress did little but make a big show about increasing funding for the CDC by eight billion dollars. What a joke, truly a drop in the bucket.
Over the last 15 years, the federal public health agencies have had their budgets cut from 900 million dollars a year in 2005 to 675 million dollars in 2020. That’s a reduction of 45%, adjusted for inflation! The Public Health Emergency Fund, created for such disease or disaster relief, has long been completely empty, with no money put into it for twenty years. To add insult to injury, in 2018, the Trump administration disbanded the White House office that was supposed to direct U.S. response to a pandemic like the coronavirus, the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense.
So not only has the response from the government been completely disorganized, public health agencies don’t have the staff, training, equipment or supplies to deal with a new epidemic. So, where will the staff, money and resources for fighting the coronavirus epidemic come from? They will all be pulled from all the other healthcare emergencies that the public health services are trying to contend with, including the opioid epidemic, measles outbreaks among school children, tuberculosis, and a host of sexually transmitted diseases.
In reality, the government’s policy to deal with the coronavirus epidemic is exactly like its policy toward other disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires and floods. The only difference is that this epidemic is on a far more vast scale. Ordinary people are basically left to fend for themselves at great human cost, while the government mobilizes all its resources to assure the profits and security of big business and the rich.
A society like this—capitalist society—deserves to be buried. The working class, organized together, will be its gravedigger.