The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The Cause of the Epidemic Is Not a Mystery

Apr 20, 2020

This is the editorial that appeared in SPARK’s workplace newsletters, for the week of April 6.

The virus that causes COVID-19 was only recently discovered. The way it acts is not yet fully understood. But nurses and doctors do know it is quite contagious, that a person without symptoms can spread the disease to another person. They’ve seen that it can be deadly, sometimes killing people who seemed to be in perfectly good health only a few days before, while others may not even feel as though they have a cold.

As mysterious as the disease may seem, the basic problem is not the disease nor the virus that causes it. Medical science has long known how to overcome diseases caused by viruses. Smallpox and measles have practically been wiped out by the development of vaccines. And science has known how to prevent virus-caused diseases from spreading and becoming serious epidemics.

What makes this disease so deadly today is that the findings of medical science have been rejected by the political establishment. And the concrete discoveries being made on the spot by doctors, nurses, technicians and other medical personnel are being ignored.

The Trump administration says this virus-caused disease first appeared in China, and that the Chinese regime hid the disease’s reality for the first month and a half. That’s true, but so what?

Fact is, by the beginning of January, the American political establishment knew full well the magnitude of what was happening in China and what could be expected to happen when the virus made its way around the world to this country—as inevitably it must. Ever since capitalism began building trade routes four centuries ago with the slave trade and European diseases spread into Africa, diseases have been international.

Three months ago, the American political establishment knew what would happen. But their spokesman, Trump, pretended things were fine.

Three months is a lot of time—if time had been used to prepare. Public health services could have been resurrected. They are the first line of defense against any disease that can easily be transmitted from one person to another. Research into vaccines needed to be ramped up.

Federal and state public health budgets have been severely cut ever since 1980, while for-profit hospital systems took over. Research for vaccines was also cut, while money flowed into profits for the pharmaceutical industry. The money needed for public health and basic medical research serving the population was diverted into the bank accounts of a morally ugly capitalist class and the corporations they own.

Even so, a lot could have been repaired in three months time. Look how fast, and with how much money the government reacted when the stock market began to crash. In less than three weeks time, they came up with six trillion dollars.

Three weeks for the stock market. They had three months for the health of the population—and didn’t use it. If they had come up with even half a trillion dollars when they first knew about the disease, they might have prevented this disease from becoming an epidemic.

Enough tests could have been produced so the population could be widely tested. Public health knows how to use testing so the spread of a disease can be accurately plotted, infected people quarantined, without locking up everyone. Masks, gloves and gowns could have been produced so medical personnel could attend to the sick without becoming sick themselves. Time could have been gained while a vaccine was developed. Even now today, hospitals that have been turned into profit-making machines could be taken back, restored to their simple medical purpose.

Three months to prepare. But the time wasn’t used. And time still is not being used today. So the disease is spreading, no one knows how far it will go. People are dying, no one knows how many there will be.

The cause of this is no mystery. It is the necessary outcome of an economic system that puts profit before all else. Capitalism is the disease that is killing us.