The speed at which we have had to adjust our lives and expectations to a deadly virus that we cannot see is head spinning.
We’re in a race to slow the spread of coronavirus so that our hospitals are not overwhelmed, as we’ve seen painfully in Italy. By stretching out the pandemic, we make it possible for people who fall seriously ill to get intensive care they need to survive.
Like so many people, I have loved ones with compromised immune systems, an underlying condition of my own (asthma), and friends stubbornly going about their normal lives. Though I’m trying to show a brave face by continuing to work (albeit virtually) in my job as a community organizer working to create a better, more fair healthcare system, and to support my friends and family, there is a level of personal fear just under the surface that I can’t seem to shake.
It helps to remind myself that we know what to do to save lives. Our success in flattening the curve of the pandemic depends on taking good care of ourselves, and, as a society with extreme inequality, prioritizing those who are most vulnerable. We need to make testing, treatment and financial support accessible to everyone in a way that is fair and equitable.
The United States faces a unique challenge in confronting the pandemic because we lack a coherent public health system, and have tens of millions of low-wage workers, including immigrant workers, with no safety net, no paid sick time, no income-security, if they or their family members become sick.
As we physically distance ourselves from one another, it is more important than ever to socially connect so that we are looking out for those who are most vulnerable. Many faith communities are continuing to hold worship services online. Neighbors are calling the elderly or disabled to make sure they have what they need and aren’t isolated.
We also need to press our cities and states to act faster and more equitably. Hospitals and public health agencies are beginning to open up drive-through testing sites. We also need neighborhood testing sites and teams that can go door-to-door to test people who are homebound or do not have cars.
We can do that by asking our hospitals to partner with local community health centers in at-risk neighborhoods.
All cities, towns, counties and states should stop evictions, foreclosures and utility shut offs, and provide housing to people who are homeless. They should release as many people as possible from local jails, state prisons and immigrant detention centers, which are likely to become hot spots for the virus.
More than 100 urban and rural safety-net hospitals serving vulnerable patients and communities have closed over the past decade. They need to be reopened now to serve the influx of patients.
Just as the Chinese built two new hospitals in Wuhan in days, we need to act aggressively to create more hospital and intensive-care beds focused on the communities with the least resources.
To limit the pain and suffering that will result to all of us from this pandemic, in a matter of weeks we have to build a public health system that prioritizes the most vulnerable.
Not only those who have health conditions that put them at-risk but also those who are made vulnerable by the massive underlying racial and economic disparities that make the United States the most unequal country to face a major coronavirus outbreak.
As Congress worked on emergency legislation they heard from thousands of corporate lobbyists trying to protect and enrich their industries. The priority for federal aid should be a massive infusion of resources into safety-net hospitals and community health centers that care for the most vulnerable patients in the most at-risk communities.
And we need to make sure that all people (no exceptions) who work for wages or have lost their jobs, receive monthly payments so they can afford to protect themselves and their families and keep food on their tables.
Together we can overcome the challenge of this pandemic, but only if we care for everyone.