What will it mean for the people in the U.S. when the coronavirus spreads around the world? What preparations are being made to help the people here?
Pandemics are not a new thing. In 1918 the influenza virus became a pandemic by which the U.S. was greatly affected. Soldiers drafted into the Army who had escaped being shipped overseas when World War I ended were nevertheless dying by the thousands. Barracked in close quarters, 45,000 soldiers perished of influenza. U.S. combat deaths in World War I, by comparison, were 53,000.
Estimates are that at least 20 million to 50 million people worldwide died in that flu epidemic.
Now we are facing what could well become another pandemic. Medical science and technology have advanced very far in the century that has passed since then. Yet that has not stopped the coronavirus from rapidly spreading in this age of cruise ships and jet travel.
People’s China has already mobilized the whole country to curb the spread of the virus and treat those who contract it. China is also trying to ensure that the huge numbers of people quarantined are not also penalized financially from that isolation.
Nevertheless, the coronavirus is now appearing in clusters of cases in many countries around the world.
So what is being done about it in the U.S. — in this rich country with so many millionaires and billionaires?
The Miami Herald of Feb. 24 reported on the case of Osmel Martinez Azcue, who had been sent on a business trip to China and developed flu-like symptoms shortly after his return to Miami. He immediately went to his local hospital, where he asked for a simple flu test. Instead, he was given the full treatment: isolation, a battery of tests by people in hazmat suits, a CT scan, etc. It turned out he was okay; it was just ordinary flu.
Then he got the bill from his insurance company: $3,270.
Martinez is lucky to have health insurance, or it would have cost him even more. Many people in this country lack medical coverage. Martinez thinks the cost of health care in the U.S. could interfere with curbing public health crises. “How can they expect normal citizens to contribute to eliminating the potential risk of person-to-person spread if hospitals are waiting to charge us $3,270 for a simple blood test and a nasal swab?” he told the Herald.
Election season and flu season overlap
The election season has already begun in this country, as has flu season. Will any of the current presidential candidates warn of the dangers and call for a fully nationalized health care system so that what just happened in Miami could never be repeated? So that anyone worried about a health problem can see a doctor and be confident that they won’t be driven into debt or bankruptcy as a result?
Wall Street will bemoan the drop in stock values because of the spread of the new flu. Yet it will offer little comfort to the millions without the means to access the basic right of health care.
Bernie Sanders, who campaigns as a socialist, should live up to the title and emphasize what socialized medicine can mean for the millions and millions who need it. One of the editors of Workers World lived in Britain for six months in 1966-67 and experienced it firsthand. A friend from the U.S., there on a tourist visa, fell gravely ill, was hospitalized and operated on for a bleeding ulcer, and was then sent for two weeks to recuperate in what had once been a fancy castle on the English Channel. His bill at the end was 15 pence — for a phone call.
Britain is not by any means a socialist country, but because it was in competition with the socialist bloc at that time, the government gave in to mass pressure and instituted a publicly funded medical system.
The U.S. medical system is already overstretched and overpriced, especially given the opioid crisis. What will happen when the coronavirus spreads? The time to demand a complete overhaul and the institution of socialized medicine — defined in the dictionary as “the provision of medical and hospital care for all, by means of public funds” — is now. Our lives depend on it.