Think About It: When the air clears

Pandemic has made it harder to escape a dark reality for too many people and explain our inaction

The foggy airs of the pandemic and economic downturn will clear someday. We need to be ready to act to strengthen things that go right and fix things that have gone terribly wrong.

If you’ve been watching closely the last few months, you’ve noticed that the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting economic crises have exposed winners and losers made by gaps in the nation’s institutions and systems intended to respond to crises.

CDC loser

The nation’s foremost public health institution, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was a big loser when the agency did not fulfill its mission of providing leadership in protecting the American public from the most dangerous health threat in 100 years.

The CDC should have mobilized when the nation became under attack by a deadly virus — much like the military would mobilize if the nation were attacked by foreign invaders.

Both the CDC and U.S. military, as part of the U.S. executive branch, respond at the direction of the U.S. President. In the case of the pandemic and CDC, the president directed the CDC to take on a consultant role with each state rather than a national organizing and coordinating role.

We did not experience a CDC springing into action and using the agency’s considerable resources and expertise to mobilize a nation. Their role became muted to the voice of a few who were unable and/or unwilling to mobilize the nation on a single path to preserving life and the economy.

The voices guided by the president’s considerable confidence in his intuition failed to recognize the “novel,” or first-ever nature, of the deadly virus and support the scientific process required to understand the virus, its path and its devastation.

It would be much like asking the nation’s military to lay down its arms and have local police fight aliens from outer space.

Federal reserve winner

The Federal Reserve proved responsive when it exercised mechanisms it had (and could independently use) to stabilize the economy and currency including $2.3 trillion in lending during the pandemic induced economic crisis.

Among the Reserve’s actions was buying securities, backstopping mutual funds money market funds, easing some regulations and easing lending to banks.

The stock market is near or at all-time highs, some because of Federal Reserve props that bring security to investment, and some simply from profits made as a result of life-and-death need during the pandemic.

The Federal Reserve system was able to fulfill its mission to foster the stability, integrity and efficiency of the nation’s monetary, financial and payment systems.

Congress short-term winner, long-term loser

Congress was able to pump out relief in the form of a so-called payroll protection plan for workers and businesses. The 10 percent-plus people who are jobless because of the pandemic shutdown received additional $600 each week added to unemployment.

For some, that was more then they made in the job they lost. For others, it was less.

It’s not entirely clear to me how money was lent to small businesses, except there are reports that some went without and some large companies that received a windfall regardless of need.

Each adult received $1,200 and families received another $500 for each child, all of which was dispensed regardless of need as well.

Now Congress is stalled at the negotiation table. Some would say they either sobered up or regained their former belligerence or pre-election animus about the other party. Federal financial supports to families has dried up.

The Senate went on vacation and the House is on perpetual standby.

Exposed American health care system failures

Meanwhile essential health care workers at all levels of the American health care system serving in pandemic epicenters are placed at risk for lack of equipment and the stress of fighting to save lives and losing too many times.

The failure of our health care system is exposed by a death rate disproportionately higher for populations that have inadequate or no access to health care and have not received adequate evaluation and treatment for underlying conditions. Bodies with uncontrolled diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and/or obesity are simply not fit to fight this deadly virus.

More working people lost jobs due to business slowdowns or close-downs, which means they are now without health care coverage unless they’re eligible for Obamacare.

Health care institutions serving epicenters and staggering under the pressure of a constant flow of critically ill people are not helped and will not be saved because of the failure of policy makers to take initiative.

We are not done with this pandemic. Yet, health and health care systems were not a priority now any more than before the pandemic.

Congress is motionless on shoring up battered health care systems. The president has moved on to eliminating the Affordable Care Act, pulling back regulations that controlled the amount of illness-causing toxins released into the environment and at attempting to defer — perhaps permanently — payroll taxes that supports Social Security and Medicare.

Locally, his administration is reducing Medicare payments to our OMC to the extent that certain health services in Sequim will be jeopardized.

America the biggest loser

The only system that worked was the one that stabilizes the economy and, as some would argue, makes the rich richer. Regardless, we need financial stability but I think our government should have controlled for windfall profits such as those received by companies that sold surgical masks for $0.05 each and now sell the same mask for $0.60.

What needs as much attention are systems like the CDC that works to keep us well or our local medical center that treats us when we’re sick or injured. Health care in all is forms is vulnerable to the vicissitudes of ignorant and/or uncaring of politicians who don’t see a healthy populace as a benefit to America as a whole.

We didn’t need a pandemic to tell us America’s so-called great health care system doesn’t meet the needs of its people and that there exists an influential groups of politicians who don’t care, as long as what does work makes money.

The pandemic has made it harder to escape the dark reality for far too many people and explain away inaction when the air clears. If the death rate continues at 10,000 COVID-19 deaths per week, American will end 2020 with about 350,000 deaths — many of which did not need to occur.

Bertha Cooper, featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation. Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at columnists@sequimgazette.com.

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