Coronavirus: Our Call to Social & Economic Transformation
March 16, 2020
I did not expect to text my high school classmate this weekend to ask about her mother’s coronavirus experience. The truth is, I haven’t texted this classmate in almost a decade, but circumstances change. Global pandemics put things in perspective and you find yourself reaching out to all manner of people you have really talked to in years. Hi, How are you? How are things back home?
My classmate’s mother, Beth, went through a bureaucratic nightmare with deadly consequences. After returning from a trip abroad more than a month ago, she found herself exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus. She decided to take extra measures and self-quarantine. But, at that time, information about the virus was sparse in the United States, and county health officials had no tests available to administer when she asked. They recommended she quarantine herself.
“At that time, we knew so little, and I was at a real loss as to how even do that,” she said. Over her quarantine, she suffered a sinus infection and unfortunately ended up infecting her 83-year old mother, at high-risk of developing deadly symptoms. She tried to get her mother tested too but was faced with the same shortage of answers.
Almost a month later, a doctor declared that Beth and her mother had had the virus, after reading their chest x-rays. “When the nasal congestion turned into a sinus infection, I thought I was no longer contagious. Now I find out that I probably was,” Beth wrote. The consequences for her mother could have quickly turned deadly. But for now, Beth says,“[she] is still in isolation.”
Beth’s nightmare doesn’t end there: Beth’s entire family will remain in quarantine, including my classmate who is a seasonal worker, and is likely to be laid-off in the next few days. Sarah, Beth said, is bracing for a future without a job.
The demands of responding to a pandemic is beyond what any one family should have to go through alone. What kind of nation would we be if we didn’t respond to a salient public health crisis now, when the consequences of inaction can be deadly? This virus is crystalizing our need to redress inequalities in our healthcare system, guarantee paid family and sick leave, and support families through smart economic policy.
Last week, the House passed the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R 6201). The bill would put resources in testing and treatment. It would affect sweeping changes in our nation’s paid sick leave and unemployment insurance laws, ensuring that working family’s livelihoods are not disrupted. It makes sure families are fed, by expanding nutrition programs, and health care and other workers are protected. It ensures states are well prepared to respond, by boosting federal funding for Medicaid.
As the Senate prepares to act and soon vote on the House bill, additional steps will need to be taken to address wide-scale financial distress caused by the economy constricting. The hallmark of Congressional efforts to stem this health emergency and any related economic downturn should meet the needs of working families. Above all, Congress must ensure accessible and affordable testing and treatment for the Coronavirus, regardless of income, location, disability, or immigration status. It must also:
- Ensure all have the support they need to take sick leave and care for family members without risking their jobs or their paychecks.
- Ensure low-income workers and individuals facing hardship have the assistance they need to put food on the table and provide for their families.
- Give special care and attention to individuals at increased risk of infection, including individuals in prison, immigrants and children in detention, in long-term care facilities, and experiencing homelessness.
- Economic stimulus measures should focus first on low-income and vulnerable communities. Such policies also have the strongest economic impact. Any bailouts and emergency assistance for major industries and businesses must be paired with comparable assistance for low-wage workers and vulnerable individuals.
- Oppose any efforts to use the pandemic as an excuse to further militarize the border or exacerbate immigration deportation and detention.
While we laud recent passage of the House bill, and recommend swift action on these emergency measures in the Senate, we recognize the need for a stronger and wider social safety net, especially for the disproportionately impacted like low-wage workers, domestic workers, and people of color. In terms of paid family and sick leave, we strongly Congress take up and pass the Family Act, and the Healthy Families Act, which would guarantee seven days of paid sick leave.
Our federal tax code incentivizes massive wealth accumulation and the prioritization of profit, driving a greater wedge between the share of the population who have only some, if any, savings for an emergency, and those who a lot. This preferential treatment for the wealthy can only have consequences down the line, as we’re discovering, since the Federal Reserve’s fiscal response to economic crisis has done little to touch on the lives of everyday working families. The slow degradation of our nation’s labor laws, the stagnation of wages and benefits, and the country’s insistence on lending a lifeline to corporations and not people is a thorough indictment of our economic policy.
Coronavirus’ indiscriminate path is showing us that the inequities in our systems continue to leave millions of Americans vulnerable to economic instability and health care insecurity. Because it’s no longer a manner of if, but when, we rewrite our nation’s social and economic policy to better meet the needs of families in crisis, we must summon the same political courage and haste it will have taken to pass these emergency measures.
Beth is an ordained minister with the United Methodist Church. I am thankful of her courage in sharing her account of living with coronavirus and for reminding me that spiritual practice can serve as a lifeline in times of hardship.