The Government Wants To Handle Covid Like The Flu

Bad flu seasons put a heavy burden on emergency rooms prior to COVID, but because it is seasonal, the strains are variable and the vaccination efficacy is variable a break always occurred in between the bad seasons. People just put up with it. With COVID, we’re in a never ending bad flu season.

We Don’t Learn From History

During the 2017-2018 flu season an estimated 52,000 people died in the USA according to the CDC. Time reported that hospitals overwhelmed by flu patients were treating them in tents.

“We are pretty much at capacity, and the volume is certainly different from previous flu seasons,” says Dr. Alfred Tallia, professor and chair of family medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “I’ve been in practice for 30 years, and it’s been a good 15 or 20 years since I’ve seen a flu-related illness scenario like we’ve had this year.”

Tallia says his hospital is “managing, but just barely,” at keeping up with the increased number of sick patients in the last three weeks. The hospital’s urgent-care centers have also been inundated, and its outpatient clinics have no appointments available.

The public accepts that situation. People go to work sick, bring their kids to school sick and people due. Billionaires and corporations line their pockets because they insist that people cannot stay home with pay if they are sick.

Nothing has changed with public policy since that 2017-2018 flu season to ameliorate the issue. The expectation is that the public will accept that tens or even hundreds of thousands will die each year either from the flu or COVID and that’s just how it goes.

The CDC recently revised rules on how long people can stay out of work for COVID.

People with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter.

They’re saying you could be infectious for those 5 days you’re wearing a mask, but go to work anyway.

Vaccination Is A Stopgap

Vaccination stems some of the rising tide of COVID related hospitalizations, but we know at this point that we will never get everyone vaccinated. If people avoid getting vaccinated for polio and measles they aren’t going to take this vaccine. Even after COVID we managed to get only 52.1% of the population to take the flu vaccine.

Regardless of how many people take the vaccine, the spread is not going to stop via vaccination. Vaccination for COVID is partly to defend against infection, but mostly to ameliorate the symptoms if you do get sick and keep you out of the hospital. The flu vaccine serves essentially the same purpose. With either one, when you get sick, even while vaccinated, you still transmit the disease just as much as an unvaccinated person.

We can’t fix the core problem without changing the system and eliminating the for profit motive behind basic healthcare and giving people mandatory paid sick leave. Right now the vaccination blame game is being used as the excuse for not making those changes.

The Vaccination Blame Game

The claim is that the real problem are the people not getting vaccinated. This is certainly in some sense true. If we were able to get everyone vaccinated, possibly this could be just another horrible flu season, but since we’ve never been able to get everyone vaccinated that’s a pipe dream. Corporations have always been content to let people die in the tens of thousands as long as the wheels of the machine kept turning and only now that the wheels are coming off do they start to point fingers at individuals for their behavior with regard to vaccination.

The system was broken before this pandemic started. We never were able to vaccinate everyone effectively. We’ve never stemmed a pandemic via vaccination and we’re never going to with an imperfect vaccine and a virus that mutates as quickly as COVID-19.

That the unvaccinated are to blame and not our terrible system is becoming accepted by many circles. The CDC can tell infectious people to go back to work and wear a mask and most people don’t blink an eye, because that’s always been the status quo.

We need to change the status quo. People should not go to work sick, people should be able to see the doctor without bankrupting themselves. The real sickness is our healthcare system and the diagnosis is terminal.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Won’t End Via The Current Vaccines

The COVID pandemic continues. It ebbs and flows as cases rise and fall with the seasons and the changing behavior of carriers.

One thing is constant though, the shouting for people to get vaccinated and the invective directed against those that won’t. The claim is that if everyone got vaccinated we could go back to normal. Normal is not an end to the pandemic though. There are certainly positives to getting the vaccine, but it’s not going to end this pandemic.

An Imperfect Vaccine

The current FDA approved Pfizer vaccine was touted as 95% effective in preventing transmission of COVID during phase 3 clinical trials. New studies show that the vaccine is much less effective against preventing transmission of the delta variant and other variants as time passes. While protection starts off at 93%, after four months that drops to 53%. Other non-delta variants start off at 97% and then drop to 67% after four months.

There can be no end to the transmission of COVID without a vaccine that is at or near to 100% effective in preventing transmission over a relatively long period of time. A polio vaccination confers 99-100% protection against polio for years according to the CDC. The current crop of COVID vaccines don’t even reach that level of protection immediately after vaccination.

You’re Healthy Enough To Get Sick At Work

The vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing serious hospitalizations is noted at 93% throughout the four month observed time period. This is a key point given by people that are in favor of a vaccine mandate, that the vaccine prevents hospitalization, but what does that mean for the people that are being pushed back into public facing jobs? It means they are expected to spread illness at work and deal with it.

No politician or corporation is expecting these vaccines to prevent large scale transmission of COVID-19 and they certainly aren’t concerned about workers that are being put into contact with the disease. They want to mitigate the amount of people being hospitalized only because the USA’s costly and poorly prepared healthcare system cannot bear the burden of people with these illnesses and it is breaking down. Corporations and their political lackeys can’t extract maximum value from an oppressive system if it is broken. This is why state governments don’t care if they have to fire healthcare workers and replace them with the National Guard. It’s not about quality of care, it’s about extracting capital and passing it up the line.

Too Big To Provide Coverage

The USA spends more per capita on healthcare than any other country on the planet while at the same time 32.8 million of its population remain uninsured. The USA is rated the worst among major high income countries for various healthcare outcomes, including life expectancy, chronic illness and obesity. In 2019 the USA ranked below every other high income country and many low income countries, including Cuba and Lebanon, in overall life expectancy by country.

In the 2017-2018 flu season the USA experienced 710,572 hospitalizations and 51,646 deaths from influenza. In the 2018-2019 season, a relatively light year, the USA experienced 380,000 hospitalizations and 28,000 deaths from influenza. In the 2020-2021 season there were 700 deaths from the flu. There was no miracle vaccine for the flu that emerged, people just were not transmitting it due to lockdowns and other precautions such as masking. With mandatory sick leave and actual healthcare coverage 2020-2021 could be closer to the norm rather than the outlier.

Enjoy Normality

What politicians are counting on is that there are an acceptable number of deaths that the country will suffer without complaint. They have no interest in fixing this system if they can get back to that acceptable number. They would rather people get used to a certain rate of deaths per year from illness like they did with influenza so they can put everyone back on the same hamster wheel toiling away for low wages, no sick days and abysmal healthcare service or as they would have it, “normal.”

Retail and Service Workers Need to Unionize

Grocery store and retail employees are dying from Covid-19. None of them are getting paid enough for this sort of risk or have the benefits to cover them if they get sick. Even if they are given those benefits right now it won’t make up for a lifetime of not having them. The reason these workers have no voice is that they have consistently voted against unionizing in these industries across the country.

People lament the exit of good paying manufacturing jobs from the USA, but they fail to realize that the only reason those jobs paid well and had good benefits was because of unions. Before unions those jobs were worse than what are available now in retail and service. Manufacturing workers were often subject to extremely dangerous working conditions and long hours for low pay and no benefits at all. No retirement plan, no health insurance. Until 1938 their kids probably worked those jobs as well.

When people organized during the late 1800s the corporations called on armed goon squads to beat down union members, organizers and strikers. These people weren’t just risking a job to organize, they were risking their lives.

Yet today unions get a bad rap all around. Corporations and their political mouthpieces in the government have made unions out to be full of swindlers and con men with links to organized crime that are out to cheat laborers. When Reagan busted PATCO back in 1981 that opened the floodgates for corporations to throw labor under the bus. Reagan’s action cost the government billions of dollars, far more than PATCO had asked for in their negotiations, but he got away with it because corporations loved it.

As union membership waned in the 1980s, those decent paying jobs were shipped off to other countries. Why is this the case? Dean Baker in his book Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer explains how the game is set up.

The conventional story is that we lose manufacturing jobs to developing countries because they have hundreds of millions of people willing to do factory work at a fraction of the pay of manufacturing workers in the United States. This is true, but developing countries also have tens of millions of smart and ambitious people willing to work as doctors and lawyers in the United States at a fraction of the pay of the ones we have now.

Gains from trade work the same with doctors and lawyers as they do with textiles and steel. Our consumers would save hundreds of billions a year if we could hire professionals from developing countries and pay them salaries that are substantially less than what we pay our professionals now. The reason we import manufactured goods and not doctors is that we have designed the rules of trade that way. We deliberately write trade pacts to make it as easy as possible for U.S. companies to set up manufacturing operations abroad and ship the products back to the United States, but we have done little or nothing to remove the obstacles that professionals from other countries face in trying to work in the United States. The reason is simple: doctors and lawyers have more political power than autoworkers.

…The loss of manufacturing jobs also reduced the wages of less-educated workers (those without college degrees) more generally. The displaced manufacturing workers crowded into retail and other service sectors, putting downward pressure on wages there.

Having worked in retail both as a grunt and as a manager I can tell you from personal experience, major retailers are deathly afraid of unionization. Walmart has closed stores that have unionized. They eliminated butchers from 180 stores when one store’s meat department unionized. They settled for up to $640 million in 2008 for failing to pay workers overtime. They will literally lose billions just to avoid paying labor fair wages. They are not alone.

Corporations overall dedicate billions of dollars each year both towards lobbying for laws that weaken labor as well as paying for the services of companies that actively work at discouraging organized labor.

The only way to get labor back in a position where it can be effective is to have the majority of workers in these industries in a union, because that is the only way labor will have a voice in politics. There is no hope of electing someone that is sympathetic to labor and having them act on those promises without the political firepower to back them up.

You can’t fight a war without weapons.

The projected outcome of the coronavirus outbreak continues to get more grim. All countries are preparing as best they can for the inevitable influx of critically ill patients.

In the USA the social experiment we have engaged in since the mid 20th century, of primarily giving healthcare only to those that are working, is about to be put to the test. We’re about to find out that this public health crisis can’t be handled by the for-profit healthcare system that has long been touted as the most efficient and the best in the world.

In a recent public address the President declared that this is a war. If this is a war, the truth is that we have no ability to fight this war. We’re fighting a nuclear weapon with stone knives. We’ve cut funding for weapons research, we’ve severely limited the amount of soldiers we can put in the fight and those we do have are ill-equipped to fight. We knew this threat was out there, but we’ve ignored the problem almost completely. Even doctors in the UK where they have an actual public health system are lamenting the lack of resources they have to fight the virus. Where does the USA stand in that regard?

The USA has around 28 million uninsured. If and when those people flood emergency rooms the costs of a private system will come due and they will be apocalyptic.

USA healthcare coverage is tied to employment. As of now, even before the peak of the virus, there are mass layoffs from industries that have been forced to close or those that have experienced severe drops in demand. People in the USA without jobs in most cases have no access to healthcare. Even those with access often face massive financial burdens due to the arcane nature of how coverage works.

We must face the fact that in a war for the health of the USA we’ve budgeted only to defend the richest people in the country.