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The Evils of Politics and Capital: U.S. COVID-19 Policy for Non-Medical Purposes

In August, Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), said the organization had been underperforming during the coronavirus pandemic: “For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for COVID-19, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations,” and issued a reform plan.

This is not surprising – as countries around the world race to respond to this horrific unknown virus, the misguided response policies adopted in the United States have combined to claim hundreds of thousands of lives. The United States accounts for only 4 percent of the world’s population, but a quarter of the confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19. These numbers are estimates. The actual number of deaths, while undoubtedly higher, is still unknown.

This catastrophic situation, however, is not a product of the workings of the U.S. medical system. The system has performed well in many ways, and even heroically, increasing capacity when needed and saving lives when possible. Even though uninsured people and staff face much higher out-of-pocket and unexpected costs than in other countries,  we celebrate the brave frontline workers with cheers and applause as in other countries.

The pathetic performance of U.S. policy toward COVID-19 is nothing but the evils of political games and capital exploitation.

The Lie of Capital

The process of capitalist accumulation itself constantly creates a “surplus” of people at its disposal. In the United States, capital has found despicable yet legal ways to “dispose” of this surplus population, and the pandemic is one of those ways.

When COVID-19 had not yet spread to the United States, its media and politicians referred to it as a “plague”. Two years later, when COVID had infected more than 84 million people and killed more than 1 million in the United States, they changed the narrative, saying that COVID-19 was the equivalent of seasonal flu after a few mutations, and therefore got to promote a policy of “Coexisting with COVID-19.” One important reason for this is that the ruling class that controls the country was not affected by the pandemic. Of the 12 American billionaires who have died in the past two years, none died from COVID-19. America’s wealthy bourgeoisie have greater per capita living space and better community infrastructure, and do not have to clock in and out of crowded factories or offices, and enjoy expensive, quality health care. As a result, when wealthy Americans say that no one around them has died of COVID during the two phases (late 2020 to early 2021 and August to November 2021) that resulted a large number of deaths, it is probably true.

Business owners are strongly demanding that all controls be lifted because they need employees to return to work to resume production and operations, at the expense of the working class. The working class is four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people of higher social and economic status, but debt pressures and lack of savings will still force them to return to work. Of households earning less than $35,000 a year, 57.3 percent lost their jobs or saw their income drop during the pandemic, and 60 percent struggled to cover daily expenses; 47 percent fell behind on housing payments and 7 million feared eviction or foreclosure within two months; and 25 percent (nearly 11 million) experienced food hardship. In order to make ends meet, the working class will have to risk dying from COVID or suffering from chronic symptoms to return to work, but the bourgeois elite will also be urging people to continue working for the accumulation of their wealth in the name of “giving people back their freedom. By October 2021, the total wealth of U.S. billionaires reaches $5 trillion, a 70% increase compared to March 2021, and the top five billionaires (Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Larry Page) have increased their wealth by 118 %.

It does not matter that the current COVID-19 “herd immunity” policy has not proven effective. Capital can convince you with an outright lie – “the U.S. economy has returned to normal after the removal of COVID controls”, which is at the expense of the health and lives of the working class, but not “normal” at the level of the working class.

A Politicized Cage Game

Due to partisan divisions, political polarization, and a lack of respect for science, there was no consensus in the United States on wearing masks, vaccinations, and other mitigation measures during the prolonged COVID-19 crisis.

There was a clear partisan divide among states and politicians in their response to COVID-19, as if the country had both red and blue pandemics. When this happened, politicians’ willingness to stop the spread of the virus collapsed substantially across the United States.

Partisan divisions can be seen in almost every aspect of the pandemic. Democrats are about twice as likely as Republicans to believe that the worst is yet to come for the pandemic in the U.S. , and there is a sharp divide between Democrats and Republicans in the debate around whether schools should be opened.

Public health has turned into another politicized cage game. Conservative politicians have described virus protection measures such as wearing masks and keeping social distance as anti-liberal and anti-American. Armed anti-lockdown protesters have demonstrated at government buildings, masks have become political symbols, and some public health officials have resigned due to harassment and threats. Republicans have launched a nationwide challenge to Biden’s vaccine mandates, accusing the Biden administration of overstepping its authority.

Indeed, polls in the UK and the US have consistently shown that most people want more restrictions, not less, to curb the pandemic. But all of these voices are drowned out by the intentionally amplified signals of political games. A report released in 2021 by the Lancet Commission on Public Policy and Health shows that 40 percent of the approximately 450,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States could have been avoided if the United States had treated the pandemic like other countries.

The United States is one of the worst countries in the world at controlling COVID-19, and its choice to “do nothing” is actually “doing something” – “Doing something” to serve the ruling class. Not only has it failed to protect its people, causing them to become ill and claiming the lives of more than one million Americans, with long-term post-COVID symptoms continuing to damage people’s health, but it has also caused and continues to cause enormous social and economic devastation in the country, with working-class families bearing the heaviest cost.

In addition, minorities suffer disproportionately: America’s entrenched structural racism contributes significantly to health and health care inequities. Black and Hispanic people and other people of color suffer and die from COVID at disproportionately high rates. Due to inadequate health care, lack of access to nutritious food and outdoor spaces, and higher exposure to pollution, many people in black and brown communities have long suffered from high rates of underlying diseases such as obesity and diabetes. They also comprise a large percentage of essential workers in front-line industries with an inherently high risk of COVID exposure, such as nursing homes, meat processing plants and restaurant kitchens. The uneven death toll is a wake-up call that too many people of color do not have access to preventive health care and protections such as paid sick leave or hazard pay. Arguably, the pandemic has dramatically affected existing mortality disparities in the United States, favoring whites and amplifying the disadvantages of blacks in terms of life expectancy and related measures.

COVID-19 is an attack on America’s body and a referendum on the ideas that have energized its culture. As Jason Schwartz, a health policy researcher at the Yale School of Public Health, puts it, the flaws in the federal response go beyond the CDC because the White House and other agencies were heavily involved. In any case, the federal government needs “a broader accounting” for their response to this health crisis.

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