Trail of COVID-19 Deaths and PPE Shortages
After a month of daily COVID-19 press briefings, the nation is reeling from COVID-19 deaths with bodies spilling out of morgues, nursing homes, hospital hallways, and huge refrigerated trucks. As of the first week of May, there are over 1.3 million cases in the United States and over 80,000 deaths. New York state continues to rank the highest with almost three times the number of cases as the next three states, New Jersey, Illinois, and Massachusetts. Strangely, the President is not yet calling for the American flag to fly half-mast, but recently he has endeavored to recognize the heroism of medical personnel and first responders, as recorded by Al Jazeera and C-SPAN.
The shock for the public has come from the awe of seeing the President coat over his press briefings with replete with prevarications, and put-downs. Time and again, he appears to use the podium to mislead the public instead of basing his arguments strictly on truth and facts. Fundamental to White House press reporter questions is what did the president do during the month of February, a critical time for amassing supplies, mobilizing factories, and easing trade wars? Why do the federal data not match state data for needed supplies, especially for personal protective equipment (PPE)? Time and again, experts in the Far East have demonstrated how effective PPE are in reducing the spread of germs.
Captured on livestream by CBSN and CNN are reporters repeatedly asking these kinds of questions, with the President basically shrugging his shoulders, waving them off, or issuing blanket remarks. Moreover, he confutes the lack of American cases in February as evidence that the disease will not spread. Furthermore, the President launches verbal counterattacks on the press, Democratic politicians, the World Health Organization, and China.
The attacks on the World Health Organization, which helps coordinate PPE and medical supplies around the world in the fight against COVID-19, was accompanied by a material threat by Trump to discontinue funding announced in mid-April. The impact of this threat and the waves of hate by reactionaries against WHO are unwarranted. Here is Director-General Dr. Tedros in a daily press briefing commending the efforts of nurses and midwives, demonstrating WHO’s commitment to helping all those in need of medical help, particularly in developing countries.
World Health Day, International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, WHO
In April, rather than ease off trade sanctions to alleviate human suffering related to COVID-19, the U.S. intensified its sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, while barely easing off the tariffs imposed on China. In fact, since 2018, the Trump administration has been in a ruinous economic trade war with China, as shown in a CNBC timeline.
As a result of massive unpreparation, by late-March, waves of COVID-19 illness became evident in hotspots particularly in New England but also in the Great Lakes states. The number of deaths and illnesses increased in areas where there is community living and close quarters, such as retirement homes, apartment buildings, churches, and other gathering places where people come into closer contact. However the President repeatedly confuted low numbers of deaths as rationale that nothing needed to be done yet.
There was no mandate to wear face covering or surgical masks until early April, when the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reversed its stance and recommended that people should wear masks in public. (During February, Asians and other people who took precautions were subject to stigma or taunting.) Now, the CDC appreciates the fact that even cloth masks, as commonly worn in the Far East, offer a basic level of protection against viral contraction and spread.
Trump’s denial that there were critical PPE gaps in delivery and availability is egregious in the face of numerous testimony from nurses, doctors, staff, and emergency personnel on persistent shortages. Hospital workers face gag orders when speaking with the media, yet this was a time they felt compelled to in order to save people’s lives, including their own. There is ample testimony in interviews by The Atlantic, World Socialist Web Site, and CGTN.
“We face a number of challenges in terms of getting the protective gear. We unfortunately were not able to stock up during the time that Wuhan and the rest of China was going through the worst of the pandemic. And so now as the disease is starting to rise in the United States, we’re all depleting our supplies, and we’re unable to refill our supplies at a rate that is adequate. That is for a few reasons. The first is obviously many of our supplies are actually made in China and those were kept in China during the epidemic, appropriately; and only now are just starting to come back across the border and be imported. We also now have hospitals and states across the country that are competing to try to get the few supplies that are here, and as a result, many of our hardest hit hospitals are literally running out of N95 masks and other essential protective gear. In response to that a group of us as physicians have actually created our own website to try to get donations to hospitals and clinics in need. Dr. Shuhan He, helped found, along with me and a group of other doctors, GetUsPPE.org, where we are matching donations with health care workers in need, simply because we are not doing, at this point, a strong enough job in the United States of distributing protective equipment where it is most needed. I am hopeful though that our government is beginning to step up, and activate production locally in the United States, as well as to help distribute protective equipment more effectively across the most affected areas in the U.S.” —Dr. Megan Ranney, Emergency Physician, Brown University @CGTN
The Front Line: U.S. the new epicenter of COVID-19, CGTN
“The worst part about COVID-19 is that patients die alone, without their families by their side. Just imagine that you are dying alone, and you’re not able to say goodbye one last time to your parent, grandparent, son, daughter, friend, or really anybody you care about.” —Muhammad Siyab Panhwar, Cardiologist, Louisiana @The Atlantic
“I am in a lot of moral distress because I am not able to help patients the way that I am accustomed to. I am simply just trying to mentally stay well enough to take care of them and keep them alive. So that has been a very great moral dilemma for me.” —Nichole Quinn, Critical Care Nurse, New York @The Atlantic
Doctors and Nurses Reveal the Devastating Reality of COVID-19, The Atlantic
At a time when nurses and emergency staff are forced to work 60-hour weeks and discouraged from taking sick leave, even when they are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, they are working in abusive conditions. In fact, they are often unable to mitigate against the fact that they are inadvertently spreading COVID-19 among patients due to wearing the same N95 mask and gown for several shifts. Thus, they are throwing caution aside and making their voices heard on social media or even taking to the streets.
“In his press conference on Thursday, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo stated that the medical staff at Mount Sinai West ‘have all the PPE they need.’ This is a blatant lie. Earlier this week, a photo circulated on social media showed nurses wearing trash bags because of the lack of protective gowns at the hospital. Kayla, said, ‘We are not prepared for a situation like this at all. The amount of masks are limited and the amount of hand soap and gloves is also limited. We are doing the best we can with the resources we have, but the overall hospital does not have enough masks and gloves to cover the medical staff, let alone separate departments…There is an overall mood of fear. We are all scared. I work with doctors, nurses, counselors and administration. We are scared. Not only for ourselves but for our patients.” —Kayla (pseud.), Nurse, Mount Sinai West, New York City @WSWS.org
The fact that in some facilities and hospitals, N95 respirators and gowns are used and reused for days at a time; patients and nurses are refused or lacked adequate gloves, disinfectants, goggles, face shields, coveralls, booties, and tools indicate the lack of local, state, and national preparedness. In New York, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo put a brave and caring face on things by giving daily press briefings with details on progress, priorities, and procurement. His leadership exemplifies a style based on cooperation, collaboration, focus, and flexibility. Yet even he refused to adequately explain the gaps and shortages in PPE. On the same dates and weeks of his press conferences, WSWS spoke with a paramedic on the rising number of nurses and doctors experiencing trauma and depression.
WSWS: “Politicians from Cuomo to de Blasio and Trump have declared that there is, in fact, enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers. Trump has also questioned that New York needs 30,000-40,000 ventilators to cope with the crisis. What is your response to this?”
NYC Paramedic: “We don’t have the PPE or equipment to adequately deal with COVID-19 patients. I’ve been using my personal N95 for four weeks, and I could not have gotten a new one without a friend. It’s a completely soiled mask, probably infected at this point. Our vehicles are not being checked; we don’t have PPE kits. I haven’t seen a department of health inspector in weeks. They don’t inspect our trucks because we will not pass the department’s check list…One doctor suggested that we bleach our N95 and that’s actually happening now at Maimonides Hospital. The PPE is locked up by hospital management and good luck getting 100 providers in a hospital with 100 percent protection.” –Interview by Clara Weiss @WSWS.org
Two months later, things are not much different the NYC paramedic has confided; health workers are still only given yellow gowns that do not cover their face, their hair, their neck, or anything below the knees. They continue to have to scavenge for gowns and other PPE, even after the pandemic has raged in the U.S. and New York City for over two months.
Meanwhile, it appears that President Trump’s son-in-law, Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, was planning to profit off private-public partnerships in PPE delivery and COVID-19 screening tests. At a time when the Coronavirus Task Force should have been solely dedicated to furnishing emergency supplies and test kits to the American hospitals experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Force continued to study the data, even shifting the delivering agency from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). When a DHHS Inspector General produced a report describing shortages of PPE and medical supplies in hospitals around the country, Trump reacted angrily. Partly from the chaos, the disease spread rampantly, and now patients lay dying due to ventilator shortages, while stroke victims are forced to die in their own homes.
Furthermore, online news outlets such as Raw Story, and Salon reveal how the Trumps seek to profit off the unfolding catastrophe. They attempted to corner the market on certain types of test kits and vaccines. They invested in a private-tech partnership hoping that Oscar Health, owned by Joshua Kushner, would become a virtual testing site. They instigated delays in implementing the Defense Production Act so that corporate CEOs could negotiate maximum profit in the manufacture of ventilators. There was even a V.I.P. line for those in need of medical supplies, according to various sources. While the national strategic stockpile of emergency medical supplies as “ours” versus “states” may have been a Freudian slip, it’s original intention was to address all-comers in any national emergency (not to be dispensed as party favors).
The Trump administration’s bungling of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis would be farcical if it were not for the deaths of tens of thousands of people, who might not have died or fallen ill if proper measures were able to be taken; if there was adequate PPE available for health personnel in hospitals, clinics, and skilled-nursing facilities; and if the surge in cases could have been anticipated with adequate numbers of health care workers and hospital beds available. Countless additional patients and nursing home residents died from needless exposure to COVID-19. Others from not being able to receive critical cardiac care for emergencies, such as heart arrest, stroke, gastrointestinal blockage, or chemical imbalances. Meanwhile, stories abound on supply hoarding, price-gouging, even bidding wars, as vlogger Papi Chulomin describes eloquently in his deconstruction of the debacle, “BREAKING: Trump family profiteering off medical masks.”
Profiteering off medical masks, Papi Chulomin, Apr 6, 2020
In conclusion, it would be unfair to blame the Trump administration for blotching the COVID-19 handling. Examining the handling by Congress, including the crafting and passage of the massive CARES Act stimulus package, it appears that both parties are once again prioritizing the stockmarket over immediate human needs in easing the pandemic and its effects as quickly as possible. This is driven home by doctors, nurses, and health experts at Covid19Bill.org, an advocacy organization urging Congress to direct their attention upon ensuring that the health security of all levels of government are prioritized; that actions must target the ongoing epidemic; that there should be universal, sustained efforts to respond to public health needs and the needs for protecting Americans’ health. But while many of their ideas are helpful, they do not go far enough.
LeftVoice.org‘s “10-point Emergency Program to Tackle the Coronavirus Epidemic in the U.S.” is what workers need two months into the lockdown to address the delays in promised stimulus checks, rent moratorium, debts, dealing with lay-off, shelter-in-place, domestic abuse, and care for dependents. More than just expanding social services is needed to help low-income families, undocumented workers, and vulnerable groups whose access is constrained. However at this time, it is also universally recognized that health care workers who face the most danger and work the longest hours must willingly be provided with premium support by responsible federal, state, city, and local administration, such as oversight on workplace protections and benefits, lower patient loads, generous hospital PPE and supplies, and especially moral guidance and spiritual encouragement.