As I write this, the stock market is officially in a bear market after one of the worst weeks in its history. All of Italy – 60 million people – are on lockdown. There are fears of a global recession. All because of coronavirus
But here in America we’re… well, confused.
Is the new COVID-19, caused by the coronavirus, worse than the flu? Should I cancel my spring break vacation to Mexico? How do I keep from touching my face?
Much of the confusion rests at the feet of our inept commander-in-chief, a man who is willing to contradict the experts at the World Health Organization and downplay the seriousness of the virus in an attempt to allay concerns on Wall Street.
So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2020
For Trump, it’s more important to keep the stock market humming and his reelection chances brighter than to protect the Americans at risk of developing serious complications or dying from the virus.
But if this pandemic brings anything into focus – beyond the need for better hand washing – it should shine a light on the importance of several reforms Democrats have been clamoring to implement.
Let’s start with an obvious one: paid leave.
Almost every country mandates some form of paid sick time and family leave, but not us.
Instead, we punish workers, in particular low-income individuals, by asking them to forego a paycheck when they call in sick for themselves or a family member. By failing to offer a basic safety net, we put both their health and the public’s at risk.
Here in Arizona, we are fortunate to have a minimum level of guaranteed sick leave, but not because our state has forward-thinking legislators. Our sick leave policy was the result of a citizens’ initiative, crafted and passed in spite of objections from state Republicans and chambers of commerce.
But 24 hours of paid sick leave isn’t enough to deal with a virus that can take two weeks to materialize. Nor will a couple days of leave help many parents if schools are suddenly forced to close for weeks or months to contain an outbreak.
Congressional Democrats are trying to pass legislation mandating 14 days of paid sick leave to help Americans comply with a possible medical quarantine. Republicans in the Senate on Wednesday blocked that legislation from advancing.
While that’s a necessary step during a crisis, it’s not a long-term solution. Imagine how much healthier – both physically and mentally – we’d be if millions of our fellow workers knew they could take time off to heal themselves or care for a sick family member.
Emergency legislation isn’t the way to run a country, but at least Democrats are trying to offer relief to working Americans. Trump, on the other hand, is pushing for a payroll tax cut. It seems Republicans always think tax cuts are the answer to every crisis.
But tax cuts won’t protect workers from getting fired or help them pay the rent at the end of a long illness. Nor will a few extra pennies help low-income Americans afford the cost of a coronavirus test or a possible emergency room visit or hospitalization.
Once again, some members of Congress (including our own Rep. Ruben Gallego) are suggesting emergency measures to offer no-cost tests and health care relief because our leaders have failed to address the problems of affordability and access.
Now’s a good time to ask ourselves whether America really is better off as an outlier in the world, believing health care isn’t a right but rather a privilege for those who can afford it.
Now’s also a good time to consider the differing health care plans offered by Democrats and Republicans. Though Democrats disagree on the best plan to achieve universal health care, all seem to agree it needs to happen, and soon.
Contrast that with the plan from Republicans: kick young adults off of their parents’ insurance, get rid of protections for pre-existing conditions and bring back lifetime caps. That’s what repealing Obamacare means, and so far, that is the only proposal Republicans have endorsed.
Conservatives insist paid family leave and universal health care are just too radical to implement. But now that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, these same individuals are scrambling to provide some form of these programs to millions of Americans.
These policies are not extreme. They’ve been implemented in almost every other high-income country across the globe without economic calamity.
The question is, why not here? Why are we content with the idea that we’re too incompetent or uncaring to do the same?