COVID-19 and coronavirus

March 30, 2020

Below is a letter from the Washington state chapter of PSR.  We are sharing this important message from Dr. Vossler for the commonality of COVID-19 in the United States is apparent.   Pennsylvania has  4,087 positive cases and 48 deaths, as reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Health as of 12:00pm on March 30, 2020.

 

March 16, 2020

Dear WPSR members and supporters,

Faced with a public health crisis of uncertain but potentially devastating proportions, there seems to be more concern on the part of the Federal government for preserving the gains of the investor class than protecting the health of all Americans. If this isn’t a call to action for health professionals to change the debate I don’t know what is. The series of events of the past two weeks have given us cause to seriously reflect on our work at WPSR as we advocate for policies to promote the safety, health, and well being of our community and the human community at large. We are, of course, shaken by the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in our state and beyond. As of this writing, there have been 904 reported cases in Washington and 48 deaths. In times of tragedy like these, we look at our work and ask if we are focusing on the right things, areas where we can have a real impact. We are humbled by our limits and motivated to do better.  

I am extremely proud of the work being done by the medical and nursing staff at our local hospitals. Their dedication and perseverance in the face of adversity are commendable.  Our state and county health department have been working diligently on this despite their limited resources. Our governor, state legislature and Congress are taking this seriously and allocating additional resources to combat the outbreak. Congress has wisely passed an $8.3 billion emergency spending bill to address the crisis. Needless to say, resources are not unlimited and it is still possible that this crisis will outstrip our ability to manage it.    

The optimal response to an infectious agent that has no specific antimicrobial treatment includes social distancing and quarantine.  Working from home and having your children home from school might be an option for affluent and white-collar households, but is much more difficult for those working in retail, health care, and other services.  There are children who depend on schools for meals and shelter. Many workers - many of our neighbors - live paycheck to paycheck. The communities most likely to be affected are those with lower incomes and people of color.  Lower-paid workers often feel pressured to work while sick. They are typically the first to be laid off, the most likely to lose health care benefits (if they have them in the first place) and therefore the most likely to suffer health consequences that go above and beyond the offending infectious agent.  Economic inequity, therefore, limits our resilience in the face of this emergency and those to come. The current pandemic is almost certain to further widen this inequity. If a recession follows, workers and small business owners from low-income communities and communities of color will suffer the brunt of job losses, pay cuts, and plummeting sales, while the more affluent are positioned to weather the downturn by drawing on their wealth.  We will, therefore, continue to advocate for guaranteed paid medical leave, an increase in the federal minimum wage, and a more progressive tax system in both our state and our nation. 

At Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, we continue to work to prevent what we cannot cure. However, it is overly tempting for health professionals to think of preventive medicine strictly in terms of personal responsibility:  lose weight, exercise, don’t smoke, eat your vegetables, wear your seatbelt, avoid alcohol, etc. People are not dying of COVID-19 because they are irresponsible. They are dying because our global society lacks the means to contain the virus, pure and simple.  They are dying because they are vulnerable and we as a society are unable to protect them. Our society is in poor health, and we need to correct that if we are to have any chance at all at preserving individual health. Fundamental to the crises of health we are facing are economic and governance systems designed to preserve power and privilege for the few, to the detriment of the health of the many. 

The coronavirus pandemic points out the need to prepare for other human health crises, such as the spread of vector-borne diseases as a result of climate change, extreme weather events, and the horrific consequences of a nuclear attack. Our budgetary priorities are grossly misplaced with our federal government positioned to spend $50 billion annually on nuclear weapons.  Rather than spend that money on increasing the risk of the extinction of humanity let’s spend it on protecting human health. Fully fund the CDC and local health departments, ensure that every American has a living income, and mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis. Let’s hold our leaders accountable to the needs of the people. 

So, our work on health-based advocacy remains crucial.  We know that the majority of Americans agree with us. We know that as health professionals we lend a level of credibility to these ideas that cannot be dismissed.  We have the privilege of the talent and resources to make a difference and therefore have an obligation to advocate for the health of our patients and all of humanity. Every one of you has a part to play.    

Your support of WPSR ensures that we will continue our tireless efforts to ensure health, peace, and justice for all Washingtonians. We are inspired by compassion, and undaunted by the odds -- this is even more true during times like these when we have a greater responsibility and opportunity to act. There has never been a more important time to join us in our fight against grave threats to human health and survival. Please visit www.wpsr.org/support to engage, stay informed, and to contribute to our critical cause.

In peace and health,

Mark Vossler, MD
President 
Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility

P.S. Please continue to do your part to “flatten” the transmission curve by practicing good hygiene and social distancing.