The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to spiral out of control across the country. The seven-day moving average of new Coronavirus cases has increased by 80 percent in the most recent two weeks, currently standing at 153,000. The record for new cases reported in a day has been broken several times in the last two weeks. Friday was the first time that number broke 180,000 as the spread rapidly increases.
The dead in the United States alone number at least 252,000, but due to many months of insufficient testing that figure is probably a low estimate. Experts say the number of excess deaths due to COVID-19 could reach 400,000 by year’s end.
Hospitals are already at or nearing capacity in many cities, especially the hard-hit Midwest. Outrageously, very little has been done to strengthen and expand the country’s health infrastructure since the first wave of COVID cases hit the country at the beginning of the year.
A rural county in Minnesota is in the midst of such a fierce outbreak that they have suspended contact tracing in order to redirect resources to the crisis zones that are schools and senior living facilities. Additional healthcare professionals are being contracted in different areas of the country when possible because there are not enough workers to handle all the patients. Beds stand empty in some hospitals which cannot find or attract professionals to staff them.
Facilities shuffle dying patients over state lines by helicopter, trying to find anywhere they could receive life-saving care. A PPE deficit for frontline workers is reemerging. The governor of Nevada has contracted the virus. Completely out of ideas, the governor of North Dakota is allowing health care professionals to continue working even after testing positive for COVID-19!
Extreme mismanagement of public transit and education
At the state and local level, many phased reopening schemes have been a disaster from a public health perspective. Metrics established by city governments have been manipulated in the interest of reopening the economy sooner or have been simply discarded outright.
Even where the economy has “reopened,” public transit often remains operating on limited schedules, which means workers who can’t afford personal vehicles are cramming unsafely onto buses and subway trains to go to work. Government failure to respond to people’s needs may permanently reshape public transportation in some cities. Transit expert Katy Lang points out, “What we’ve seen is spending and bailouts oriented toward cruise lines and the airline industry but not for public transit, which is a lifeline and necessity for frontline essential workers. Transit is getting into a dangerous funding situation where the federal government has not been stepping up when these systems, dependent on fares and local taxes, struggle to cover operating costs as people lose their jobs and can’t afford to pay.”
Parents, teachers, custodial workers and support staff have been fighting to delay school reopenings until they are safe for in-person instruction again. In Washington, D.C., the teachers’ union made concrete proposals about classroom safety to city leaders and were initially scoffed at. The teachers responded with an ultimately successful campaign to stop reopening.
Where students, teachers and staff have been forced back to in-person classes, a common outcome is a swift reversal as COVID-19 infections spike. The country’s public schools are understaffed, overcrowded and dilapidated thanks to decades of funding cuts and the related bipartisan effort to establish for-profit education under the guise of “school choice.”
Since there has been no plan to speak of, students and educators suffer. Speaking on the experience in public schools in Nevada during the pandemic, third grade teacher Jaime R. told Liberation News, “As stress levels were on the rise, many senior teachers decided to retire. Teachers that could not adapt to the new technology requirements quit. Those of us who remain have been working harder and longer hours than ever before. Creating everything digitally, teaching students how to use the tools and complete the assignments, contacting families, attending staff meetings, teacher training, and keeping up with constant changes in policies, expectations, and guidelines is just some of things on a teacher’s already overflowing plate. Even when we are at our wits end, we are guilted into taking on more and more responsibilities.”
He added, “[We] were given two weeks of ‘training’ to help us begin distance learning. We were also required to use a learning platform for which no training was actually given. We were instructed to only review whatever we had already taught in class throughout the year and to not teach any new material.”
It doesn’t have to be this way
Not every country on the planet is dealing with a renewed wave of the virus. Many governments, especially those that are committed to building socialism, have the pandemic firmly under control.
Contrary to the Cold War-style demonizing rhetoric in the U.S. corporate media, China responded immediately and transparently to the emergence of the virus. When the threat became undeniably evident, new hospitals to treat COVID patients were constructed in the course of days or weeks rather than months or years. Multiple times, entire Chinese cities — with populations in the millions — have been tested for COVID-19 over the course of just a few days following discovery of limited, community outbreaks. China has joined a multilateral cooperation body, COVAX, which is pursuing a vaccine with a pledge to make it available to all the world. Chinese testing kits have been sent around the globe, often for free.
The city of Wuhan, theorized to be the original epicenter of this coronavirus, has more or less returned to business as usual according to a World Economic Forum report. China is expected to be the only country to show economic growth this year thanks to the successful response to the virus threat.
In Venezuela, it has been made illegal to evict a residential or small business tenant and full salaries have been guaranteed by the government to all. Vietnam evacuated millions of its citizens to better defend against the virus and did not tally a single coronavirus death until late July despite its relatively close proximity to the presumed origin point China. Brigades of Cuban doctors were greeted as heroes across the world. Cuba has demonstrated that despite a suffocating and tightening economic blockade imposed on it by the U.S. government, a socialist approach to community health and medicine can result in a COVID-19 fatality rate that is a mere fraction of those found in the wealthy capitalist world powers.
Here in the United States there has been no plan and no coordinated action on the nationwide scale that is clearly necessary, let alone international cooperation. Ordinary poor and working people in the U.S. suffer and die in record numbers under a sick and sickening capitalist system where the decisive factor in decisions is profitability — not public health, sustainability, or even the cost in human lives.