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Pandemic Reveals America’s Class Divide Is Systemically Covert
The disparity in who has access to coronavirus tests is the long heralded symptom of access denied to quality healthcare based off race, class, and social-economic status.
Anyone who wants a test can get a test,” President Trump said in early March, encouraging the country to remain calm over the coronavirus pandemic during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control headquarters in Atlanta. We know what happened next: The threat began to proliferate exponentially, and most people who wanted tests couldn’t get them. The CDC’s early attempts to distribute them were disastrous, and they have continued to be strictly restricted. “It is a failing,” said White House Coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci at a congressional hearing, a week after Trump’s remarks.
The sudden spread of the virus is so alarming that it has had many observers reaching for the comparison to science fiction, to disaster movies, to apocalyptic horror. “There can be no more divisions among the living,” says Dr. Millard Rausch, the fictional scientist in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, as a zombie pandemic spreads. A virus is a kind of zombie, an undead contagion that reproduces itself without distinguishing between its hosts. But among the living, divisions already exist. In Romero’s vision, human victims become exposed in the most commonplace site of consumerism: the mall. It’s in precisely this kind of space that public assembly, and our participation in the national economy, is no longer possible. But the economic structures this space embodies stubbornly persist.
Dystopian fiction is often characterized by societies with rulers in remote locations, securing protection from the threats of both nature and the global masses. As it happens, that is the world we already live in, one where eight men own as much wealth as half of the world’s population. Needless to say, this divide affects our access to security and safety in the midst of crisis. As Americans isolate themselves in fear and uncertainty—in some cases, exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms but being told to stay out of the ER unless they can’t breathe—reports have poured in about certain citizens’ getting tested. Ostensibly, these tests are unavailable to those who cannot supply direct contact tracing. Yet supermodel Heidi Klum, online influencer Arielle Charnas, Senators Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and Lindsey Graham, and other high-profile figures have flaunted their results. Some have been positive, some not, some are even asymptomatic. At a press conference, NBA player Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz jokingly touched all the microphones within reach, echoing the president’s insouciance. The next day, he tested positive.
To date, eight NBA teams have been tested, including the Jazz, in spite of Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s admission that the state was “critically low on test kits.” It is hard not to wonder how tests became so easily available to the rich and famous, when they have been largely inaccessible for those who need them most: health care workers, the critically ill, and the elderly. In February, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney described news of the virus at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where an attendee was later discovered to have been infected, as a political maneuver by the president’s enemies. He had already been tested.
In The Atlantic, Adam Harris writes that a former insurance industry executive offered him a stark explanation for this disparity: “the health-care system in the United States is built for the elite.” Wendell Potter, once a communications director for industry giant Cigna, is now an advocate for universal health-care. “We hear politicians say all the time that we have the best health-care system in the world,” he told The Atlantic. “We have fabulous doctors and health-care facilities, but they’re off-limits to a lot of people because of the cost.”
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