Healthcare in the Age of COVID-19

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) manufacturing.

There have been close to 50,000,0000 coronavirus cases in the world. Of those, the U.S. has accounted for close to 10,000,000 cases. In recent days, more than 100,000 Americans have tested positive daily. In states like Illinois, Texas, Florida, California, and Michigan, that number’s been more than 6,000. More than 240,000 Americans have died as a result of the coronavirus. For comparison, the country with the world’s second-highest case total, India, has seen less than 8,500,000 cases and 130,000 deaths. The U.S. has a population of a little over 330,000,000. India has a population of more than 1,380,000,000.

The race for a vaccine is still ongoing, but doctors and nurses have found themselves without personal protective equipment (PPE). Hospitals, lacking ventilators and beds, have had to send patients home. Vulnerable Americans, unemployed and without medical insurance, have struggled to access treatment. The pandemic has exposed flaws and inequities within the U.S. healthcare system. This article will examine specific government shortcomings that occurred as well as current Trump administration policy responses to the pandemic.

Critics of the Trump administration have decried officials for acting too slowly in response to outbreaks. They’ve found problems with both past budget allocations and more recent economic relief policies. Indeed, the Trump administration disbanded the Pandemic Response Team in 2018. In addition, in March 2020, the Strategic National Stockpile only possessed 16,000 ventilators. A myriad of Trump administration budget cuts and departmental reorganizations had put the U.S. in an unfortunate position to face the coronavirus pandemic.

In mid-November 2019, the first COVID-19 case emerged in China’s Hubei province. According to the Washington Post, as early as January 2020, the Trump administration began receiving daily intelligence briefings about the novel coronavirus. For the most part, though, Trump administration officials had tried to tell the American public not to worry about the coronavirus pandemic. On January 21st, the U.S. detected its first case of COVID-19 in Washington State. The day after, President Trump said, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a public emergency on January 31st. Still, Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines had seemed at odds with advice from the rest of the world and too lenient. Americans had been encouraged to wash their hands but not wear masks until later. Officials also ventured into public without masks. Americans were encouraged to continue “business as usual,” while European nations went into lockdown. When state-wide lockdowns were implemented, many politicians pushed for early re-openings. All this could have contributed to nonchalant public attitudes. All this could have contributed to outbreaks.

Cases spiked in Washington State and New York as the coronavirus made its way across the nation. On March 26th, the U.S. hit 1,000 reported deaths. Just over ten days later, on April 6th, that death toll had risen to 10,000. On April 15th, 25,000. The coronavirus spread like rapid fire. So did fake news. Trump personally took and supported taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug. In trials, patients taking hydroxychloroquine died faster. He also suggested “injecting” disinfectant to combat lung damage from coronavirus. Prior to testing positive and staying at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the President frequently compared the coronavirus to the flu from January to October. He said things like the coronavirus is “nothing to worry about.” 

On March 27th, Congress created bailout legislation by signing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, Economic Security (CARES) Act. The policies offered targeted aid to big businesses as opposed to marginalized communities, though. Under the CARES Act, Congress approved $50 billion in loans and grants for the airline industry. This occurred as studies confirmed the pandemic had disproportionately impacted Black, Native American, Latinx, rural, and low-income communities. Around August, the average American received a $1,200 stimulus check but had little else going into savings. On average, a trip to the doctor’s office costs a little over $1,600. Coronavirus testing was free, but many Americans had to pay out of pocket for various other medical examinations,  including symptom-related flu or blood tests. Medical costs were higher for more than 8.5% of the U.S. population with 27.5 million people lacking access to health insurance. Many avoided visiting hospitals for fear of incurring financial costs. 

The Trump administration has continued to fund vaccine research. The FDA has just opened up private meetings, broadcasting conversations between vaccine advisory group members. 

Trump’s Democratic opponent in the 2020 Presidential elections, former Vice President and President-elect Joe Biden, has supported healthcare insurance for things including but not limited to coronavirus vaccines.

Both candidates promised to improve America’s healthcare system—a hot button issue for the 2020 voter. Along with the economy, healthcare was one of the most important voter issues in the months leading up to November. As record numbers of voters turned out to vote for 2020, millions of Americans knew that healthcare was on the ballot.

It remains to be seen how the U.S. healthcare system will change following the discovery of a vaccine under the Biden administration. In future articles, I’ll examine whether or not any specific policies can make up for shortcomings or fix medical system flaws.

Photo from Shutterstock.