The neo-liberal austerity model of governance ensures that Covid-19 will
continue spreading and producing new variants. Only people focused public health
remedies will end the pandemic.
On December 31, 2019 Chinese media told the world about a newly discovered
disease cluster in the city of Wuhan. What was thought to be a viral pneumonia
came to be known as SARS-CoV-2, Covid-19. Two weeks later Chinese scientists
sequenced its genome and gave the world the ability to test and trace the
disease. Covid continued to spread and the World Health Organization (WHO)
declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
China didn't wait for a WHO declaration in order to take action. The government
immediately adopted a zero covid strategy. They dispatched health care workers
to Wuhan and built new hospitals to care for the sick. The sick were isolated
and the healthy were supported in a variety of ways. They developed their own
vaccine, which 90% of the population have taken. China tests millions of its
people on a regular basis. The result of this effort is fewer than 5,000 deaths
in a nation of 1.3 billion people. The United States, with a population of 330
million, has more than 800,000 deaths and a record-breaking number of new cases
in December 2021. Of course, one society is committed to serving human needs
while the other wants to do as little as possible in that regard. Serving the
donor class is the political priority in the U.S. Everything else is secondary.
The United States doesn't have a true health care system. Instead, for-profit
companies run hospitals and private health insurers. Workers have health
insurance only if their employers provide it, and the race to the bottom has
reduced opportunities for these living wage jobs. This shaky system didn't serve
the public before the pandemic struck. The safety net is fragile and people who
fell ill or who were unemployed during this crisis were on their own with little
help from the federal government.
Throughout 2020 Donald Trump was the face of the covid crisis and his
performance was in large part responsible for his defeat. Despite campaigning as
the man who would end the pandemic, Joe Biden's response has been even worse
than Trump's. By the time Biden came to office the nature of the problem was
well known, vaccines had been developed, and a test was widely available. What
hadn't changed is the hold of the oligarchy on the political system and the
resulting commitment to austerity and keeping workers on the job. The Biden
administration now has the dubious distinction of presiding over the same number
of deaths which occurred while Trump was in office.
Biden's spokesperson Jen Psaki unintentionally explained why the situation is no
better. In a now infamous response to a question about increasing the
availability of rapid tests for at home use, she said. "Should we just send one
to every American? Then what happens if every American has one test? How much
does that cost and what happens after that?" The operative words were about
The omicron variant had begun its spread around the world and all Biden could
come up with was a plan to make tests eligible for insurance
reimbursement. Health insurers are loath to pay for anything because profit
maximization is their goal. There is little reason to believe that these same
corporations would act against their interests and suddenly become altruistic in
a time of need.
But big money is still in control and they have direct access to the president
who promised them that nothing would fundamentally change. When the CEO of Delta
Airlines asked to reduce the number of days that employees could end infection
isolation from ten days down to five, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) did
just that. Most physicians and scientists vehemently opposed the decision, but
big business said jump and the white house asked, "How high?" Delta's lobbying
success was immediately followed by a cut in paid sick leave for its employees
In 2020 the campaign against Trump and his mishandling was the centerpiece of
Biden's campaign. He said he would, "Trust the science," but when scientists
made recommendations that might have reduced the spread of covid he ignored
them. It is Biden's CDC that declared vaccinated people didn't have to wear
masks and thus precipitated the spread of the delta variant.
It was recently revealed that in October 2021 a group of researchers proposed
what they called A Testing Surge to Prevent a Holiday COVID Surge. Their plan
was simple. The federal government should produce and distribute 732 million
free test kits per month. But the idea was rejected because of a "lack of
capacity." Of course the real problem was just what spokeswoman Psaki said out
loud. There was never an intention of using federal resources to benefit the
Fortunately the omicron variant appears to be less dangerous. Yet milder
symptoms do little good in a country which doesn't help its people. Test kits
sold commercially are often out of stock, testing facilities are crowded and
people line up for hours to be tested only to face a long wait for
results. There are so many new infections that even a "mild" variant has created
chaos with illnesses among health care workers and flight crews.
The reliance on a vaccine only strategy has led to this situation. When it
became clear that "breakthrough" infections could occur after vaccination, the
CDC announced that it would limit tracking of breakthroughs to those cases which
required hospitalization. The decision was an admission that a course correction
was needed. Instead the Biden team doubled down on failure and began forcing
federal agencies and contractors, which means most private companies, to
vaccinate employees whether they wanted it or not.
The only certainty is that a virus continues to mutate when it spreads. The
spread can be stopped if sick people are paid to stay at home, testing is easily
accessible, high quality masks are free and in ample supply, and ventilation is
improved indoors. Reliance on vaccination alone has been a failure all over the
world. For now the vaccinated are still far less likely to need hospitalization
or to die. But that protection can end with a future variant.
The WHO has warned that continued spread will lead to a variant that responds to
none of the vaccines or treatments. Already the "mild" omicron can be treated
with only one of three approved monoclonal antibody formulas. Of course the sole
effective treatment is now in very short supply. The next mutation may create a
variant that can't be treated at all.
Biden wants to keep people at work and make big business happy, just as Trump
did. The focus on the corporate bottom line makes life precarious during a
pandemic. Of course precarity is the goal. Keeping the public vulnerable and
afraid is a feature of the system.
The logic of reliance on vaccination was simple. Big pharma got millions of
dollars in public funds, and the federal government didn't have to do anything
else. Of course there should have been ongoing support instead of small stimulus
payments and a temporary child tax credit. This moment calls for huge
expenditures and not nickel and diming about test kits. The ongoing battle over
Build Back Better proves that the oligarchy are in no mood for more spending
when that is just what the situation calls for.
Americans are alternately afraid or fatalistic, succumbing to the belief that
everyone will get covid. Resignation is to be expected when the people
responsible for social well being fail so miserably. While China and Cuba freely
share vaccines around the world the United States has nothing to offer except
more misery. Biden told a group of governors that the covid crisis was a state
responsibility. Having made a crisis worse, he seeks to wash his hands of the
situation of his own making.
There is no covid miracle coming and none is necessary. Just consistent testing,
allowing the sick to stay home, improving indoor air quality, providing access
to the best masks, and using vaccines as one piece of the puzzle. Of course all
of these things should be free and under public control. On the other hand,
caring for the needs of the people would indeed be miraculous in the country of
which it was once said, "The business of America is business."