By Brian Wakamo
In mid-March, the NBA shut down for the foreseeable future thanks to the COVID-19 diagnosis of one player: Rudy Gobert. His positive test before a game between his Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder sent shockwaves throughout the league. As both teams were checked for coronavirus, his teammate, Donovan Mitchell, tested positive as well, along with past opponents that the Jazz had played.
The NBA shutdown became a catalyzing moment as the U.S. began to grapple with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, testing both teams took up 20 percent of the entire state of Oklahoma’s coronavirus testing kit inventory.
That is, flatly, absurd. Not the testing in and of itself, mind you—NBA players are very public workers who physically interact with many others on a daily basis, and then go on to disparate locations — but the fact that Oklahoma had such a small inventory and that it was fast-tracked to the well-to-do.
What happened in Oklahoma is both a massive source of frustration and an inevitable byproduct of our inherently unequal system. It should come as no surprise that the wealthy have the easiest access to healthcare, as they do to practically everything in the United States.
But times of crisis don’t just expose newfound inequities. They also exacerbate longstanding ones. And when these issues are of life and death, the intolerable cruelty of our system comes into absolute focus.
The United States is one part of this global crisis. Nonchalance towards the disease has furthered the spread in Italy, France, and Spain. Meanwhile the loss of life in Iran is magnified by destructive sanctions — which the Trump administration adds to even during a pandemic.
But what separates the United States from the rest is an inadequate system that is not at all prepared for the public health emergency coming our way.
Minimal regulations around paid sick leave means millions of people continue to come into work while under the weather, possibly exposing even more to the disease. A lack of a universal healthcare system means millions of Americans live with the chilling effects of no health insurance, while even the insured are getting hit with massive bills for treatment.
A reduction in public health funding has left states and the federal government in poor position to do basic pandemic preparedness, from making test kits, buying respirators, distributing masks and sanitizing products, and researching a vaccine.
Sadly, all of this will no doubt lead to loss of life. Steps like social distancing are important and necessary to flatten the curve and stop the spread of infection. But in our already precarious environment, just a slight uptick in hospital admissions will overwhelm the system. What needs to be done, and what should have been down two months ago, are massive federal actions to make and distribute the items that are needed to protect the most at-risk.
The government needs to rapidly up the production of testing kits and enact widespread testing seen in places like South Korea. Similarly, the production and distribution of those needed pieces of healthcare equipment — foremost, respirators, masks, sanitary equipment — need to be mandated by the government, as is being considered in the UK. They should available for little to no cost to these hospitals.
The military should not be bombing people in Iraq right now — and never should be. Instead, military bases and hospitals of all varieties need to be used as additional spaces for medical care. They also must provide any non-necessary medical devices to the civilian community.
Every single economic cost of coronavirus — from testing and healthcare to paid leave and compensation for related job losses — must be covered, and not individuals. That must be retroactively applied to anyone already treated for COVID-19.
Temporarily expropriate hotels and conference centers to create de-facto hospitals, much like what Spain is doing nowand what China did before. The building and maximization of hospital beds capable of providing care to coronavirus sufferers is paramount to stop the spread of the disease and to save the lives of thousands.
Of course, these are just a smattering of the actions the government can and should take, and all of this should have been done in January when the spread and impact of the disease was becoming clear. Government inaction has led and will continue to lead to harm for thousands of people, and it’s a tragedy of the highest order.
By acting as if everything was normal, the administration has made it so the wealthy members of NBA teams and other celebrities get express, priority treatment over the rest of the populace, as is usual in our healthcare system. Not to put too fine a point on it, but everything is not normal. And without an immediate, massive, humanitarian response to this pandemic from the federal government, more and more people, especially amongst the most vulnerable populations, will die.
Anything we can do to slow the death rate of coronavirus must be prioritized. By building a more equal system, we can save lives.
Previously published on inequality.org and is republished here under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.
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