The Coronavirus is rapidly escalating into a worldwide pandemic. As of Mar 3, there are over 90,000 cases and 3,000 fatalities in 76 countries. As countries scramble to contain the Coronavirus, health experts have warned that the United States remains woefully unprepared for an outbreak.
Acute shortage of test kits and delay in testing
For weeks, federal health officials told states that only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a few other public labs could test patients for the new coronavirus.
That was because test kits that the CDC had sent to state and local labs across the country to do their own screening had a flaw that caused inaccurate results.
The lack of testing for the coronavirus was made clear when a California patient was diagnosed with the virus who had not traveled or been in contact with anyone infected. Doctors who treated the woman at UC Davis Medical Center asked the CDC to test the woman but was denied for 5 days because she had “not travelled to virus-affected countries”.
On Feb 27, the CDC reported that only 500 people have been tested for the coronavirus across the US. By comparison, South Korea says it has been testing thousands of people a day. That week, California Governor Gavin Newsom said that the state of California has only 200 test kits for a population of nearly 40 million.
New York City-based physician and author Dr. Matt McCarthy testified on an interview with CNBC on Mar 2 that the New York Presbyterian Hospital where he works still has “no access to test kits”.
“I’m here to tell you, right now, at one of the busiest hospitals in the country, I don’t have it at my fingertips,” he said. “I still have to make my case, plead to test people. This is not good. We know that there are 88 cases in the United States. There are going to be hundreds by the middle of the week. There’s going to be thousands by next week. And this is a testing issue.”
“In New York state, the person who tested positive is only the 32nd test we’ve done in this state. That is a national scandal.”Dr. Matt McCarthy, New York Presbyterian Hospital
To contain the virus, people will need to call health care providers as soon as they develop any flu-like symptoms. But will they do so if it means losing money?
Not only do 26 million Americans lack health insurance, but nearly half of those with private insurance — another 60 million people — have high-deductible plans in which they can be on the hook for thousands of dollars.
A Miami businessman who went to China for a business trip and later developed flu-like symptoms faced a $3,270 hospital bill despite testing negative for the coronavirus. Even with health insurance, his expected out-of-pocket payment was in excess of $1,000.
Half of American households have $4,500 or less in easily accessed checkings or savings accounts, which means many might go broke trying to afford coronavirus treatment.
The cost of an ambulance ride to the hospital emergency room can range from a few hundred to over $2,500. Patients who are sent to “out-of-network” hospitals not covered under their insurance plan face the prospect of footing 100 percent of the bill.
Acutely aware of the exorbitant cost of a brief ambulance ride, more Americans are increasingly resorting to using ride-hail apps like Uber and Lyft to get to the emergency room. Should the coronavirus escalate into a widespread outbreak, Uber and Lyft drivers who lack the protective gear or proper medical training face the prospect of being exposed to infected patients.
No paid medical leave
U.S. federal law doesn’t currently guarantee paid sick leave. Just 30% of workers in the lowest 10% of wages have access to paid sick days, while the same is true of 93% of workers in the highest 10% of wages.
The CDC is urging people who are sick to stay at home to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. But for workers who don’t have paid sick leave, staying home when they aren’t feeling well can be financially devastating.
“Missing a day of work can be financially catastrophic for them and mean the difference between making rent or not, making a car payment or not or feeding their family or not,”-Donna Ballman, who heads an employee advocacy law firm in Florida
Trump Administration in denial
While health officials have been at pains to brace Americans for the inevitability of coronavirus – a matter of when, not if – Trump and his outriders have worked hard to minimize the threat.
Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, assured the US public that the bug had been contained and that the country was sealed “pretty close to airtight” against the disease.
Trump even echoed conspiracy theories that the coronavirus, tweeting that the media are doing all they can “to make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible”.
Trump believes his chances of re-election in November hinge on his record on the economy, betting that voters will back him if their pensions – linked to the stock market – are up. The fact that the Dow Jones suffered the biggest one-day drop in its history on last week has certainly brought Trump’s prospects of re-election into question.
Trump has gutted the very agencies that the US will now desperately rely on. In 2018, he slashed health spending by $15bn, eliminating the Obama-era programmes established for purpose of leading the US response to a global pandemic.
Among those cut: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – now in the frontline against coronavirus – which was forced to reduce by 80% its efforts to prevent global disease outbreak.