The COVID-19 pandemic has created a future marked by economic deterioration, social unrest, and volatile public health issues, and the United States needs its citizens to become more civically engaged, now more than ever.
Before the widespread outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the United States was in the midst of primary elections for one of the largest and most competitive Democratic fields we have seen in a while. With many people on the left eager to remove Trump from office, a lot of emphasis has been put on selecting the best candidate to face off against the formidable incumbent. Major candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren ran on platforms that highlighted medicare-for-all as the key goal of their presidencies. This was met with great opposition from the right, who sees the move as financially impossible, and as an unrealistic replacement to the current healthcare system. Democrats, especially the more radical ones like Bernie, see healthcare for all as an absolute necessity for the continued success of our nation moving forward.
Now, I would argue that there is no better way to test the viability of a well established healthcare system than with the sudden appearance of a highly developed infectious disease that spreads throughout the entirety of the planet. Based on America’s initial reaction to COVID when it was still isolated in China, and then our handling of cases appearing on the west coast, I think it is safe to say that our healthcare system has not lived up to the challenge. First of all, the sudden inflow of patients to hospitals has made people with important but non-virus related conditions avoid seeking care, which has led to avoidable deaths. People with the coronavirus have been turned away from hospitals because they don’t show fevers, which was listed as the number one indicator of having COVID. This ignorance of symptom variability has likely led to a huge increase in infections, since people think they are free of the virus due to inaccurate symptom assessment. People with the virus and severe symptoms have been robbed of proper treatment due to a widespread lack of equipment (i.e ventilators). These shortages forced hospitals to pick and choose who to treat and who to let go untreated. When considering the fact that the US is on the forefront of medical technology and treatment, this is an utter failure of the healthcare system. It highlights our sheer unpreparedness for a pandemic, or other public health crisis. To make matters worse, we have a president who spent months reading reports on the danger of the virus, and hearing from top experts, yet he still did not act expeditiously to protect the public and the economy. Instead, he seemed to be focused on maintaining the economic gains he had boasted so proudly about during his annual State of the Union Address.
Despite these issues with the US healthcare system, I am not arguing that medicare for all would have led to a better outcome. Nobody could say that for sure. However, I do believe that this pandemic has shown us that anything is possible, and that established norms are not always the best way of doing things. In the words of former President Barack Obama, “pandemics have a way of cutting through a lot of noise and spin, to remind us of what is real, and what is important.” This outbreak and weeks of social distancing has removed the distractions from the minds of the American people. The well being of millions of newly unemployed Americans is now resting in the hands of the government. The decisions they make regarding funding packages, interest rate changes, rent relief, and so much more will affect people in a way far more direct than ever before. The degree of separation between Congressional policies and people’s survival is far less than we have seen in recent history. What does this mean? Well, as President Obama puts it, “this crisis has reminded us that government matters, it has reminded us that good government matters,” and good government happens when the people’s needs are met. To do this, the people’s voices need to be heard. We are facing the greatest threat to our public health and economy that we have seen in generations, during an election year. COVID reminds us that our votes matter, and that our elections matter. Putting people in office who will hear the needs of the people is important. Calling out officials who do not hear the needs of the people is so important. And electing officials that listen to experts and act according to their advice and the best interest of the people is so so important. In other words, voting is important, and elections matter, even in times of crisis.
The prolonged isolation of the population has allowed us to cut out the noise, and consider what we want life to look like moving forward. This disaster could be an opportunity to build things from the ground up, and improve upon existing systems. For this to happen, people need to remember that their voices matter and their votes count. Being civically engaged on a local, state, and federal level is more important than ever. It does not rest on the shoulders of the government to enact change, because the people determine what the government prioritizes and what it does. We need to look at the state of our nation in this time of crisis, and come together to improve it by reaching out to representatives, attending rallies, protesting unfair policy, and advocating for ourselves and others. America has received a significant wound, but not a fatal one. We will bounce back, but just how far forward we go depends on the increased civic involvement of a concerned and unified population.