The Poor And The COVID-19 Pandemic

Chamba SanchezBy Chamba SanchezMarch 25, 2020

If one is poor, the chances for this individual to catch the coronavirus or die from it increase exponentially. The corrosive inequalities in American society are deep and broad. These inequalities don’t only worsen the spread of this lethal virus, but they also worsen the consequences.

It is true that COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate; several wealthy people and politicians have been infected. Nonetheless, avoiding the virus successfully or trying to be tested after showing well-known symptoms might hinge on one’s place in the economic system.

Wealthy individuals have resources that can easily be deployed to protect themselves from this pandemic. The most effective way for people to protect themselves from the virus is to avoid contact with the outside world.  This can easily be done by wealthy individuals.  Poor people can’t do that. Some of them have to go to work with high risk older adults who might have serious underlying medical conditions.

Locally in Los Angeles, businesses that the government considers “non-essential” are closed. Educational institutions, universities, community colleges, and K-12 schools have all shut down too. Streets and freeways are scarily empty.  And late this afternoon, UCLA announced that its graduation ceremonies scheduled for the summer will be conducted virtually.

Mayor Garcetti in Los Angeles goes live every other day asking Angelenos to stay home. Many people appreciate the efforts made by civic leaders and healthcare officials.  If you are blessed to have a profession or work in companies that do financial activities, you will easily follow these instructions.  But that message is grossly inadequate and falls on deaf ears on those living in poverty in Los Angeles.  Workers want to know how they will pay their rents and how they will feed their families.

The large service-oriented economy in Los Angeles has been hit hard by this pandemic.  Leisure and hospitality, retail trade, and companies in the “gig economy” employ large swaths of people in this city. Businesses in these industries have laid off many workers in the last two weeks.  The majority of these low wage workers have been surviving paycheck to paycheck.  They have been one paycheck away from going homeless. Also, they have no health insurance, and many of them work in the “gig economy.”  It is not within the realm of possibilities for these workers to stay home. The current economic infrastructure in place limits the ability for healthcare and government officials to contain or to mitigate COVID-19’s casualties.

Financial relief for workers in these industries must be part of the overall strategy in fighting against this pandemic.  Postponing evictions or setting up “The Angeleno Fund” gives a false sense of protection.
We need more aggressive financial relief. Mayor Garcetti should use this city’s credit rating to borrow money while the federal government negotiates its financial relief.

And then we have testing for COVID-19, which has shed light on the pervasive privileges enjoyed by wealthy individuals.

If one wants to see how dysfunctional or biased the current system is, he/she should try to get the coronavirus test.  He/she will be advised to call his doctor; the doctor will ask him/her many questions. And in the end, this individual will be asked to just quarantine himself without a test being given to him/her.  Unless this person is unable to breathe and is hospitalized, only then he/she might be given a test.

It is an outrage seeing captains of industry, politicians, entire basketball teams, Hollywood elite, and other wealthy individuals being tested. In contrast, regular folks who might genuinely need the test are not able to get one. Some of these influential people are getting preferential treatment through concierge doctors. These doctors in these concierges provide services to wealthy patients at many medical centers, such as Cedar-Sinai and Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. This blatant elitism and preferential treatment should not be tolerated.

A news organization reported that a Santa Monica pediatrician was selling cheek-swab tests for $250.00. Parents could buy this test even if their kids were not symptomatic.  This is so infuriating as folks with real symptoms but with lesser means have to get to the back of the line.

Shamefully, we have a healthcare system that treats the wealthy, well-connected, and not sick better than it treats the critically-ill poor.

Healthcare workers provide comprehensive procedures to COVID-19 infected patients by inserting breathing tubes in the patients’ windpipe filled with infected saliva.  These healthcare professionals should not only be a top priority in getting tested; they should also be given adequate protective gear to treat infected patients.

Rich folks must somehow understand that basic enduring principle that protecting themselves means that they should also make sure everyone else is protected.   Dr. King got it right when he made that urgent call on us to understand that we exist in “an inescapable network of mutuality.” We are all in this together. We won’t be able to meet the moment if we continue to marginalize some of our fellow citizens, non-citizens, and the hardworking undocumented immigrants in our communities.

The latest report: COVID-19 has infected 422,614 people worldwide, and roughly 19,000 have died. The coronavirus started in Wuhan China and traveled, at the speed of light, to all corners of the globe, COVID 19 has paralyzed the planet.

The events in the last two weeks have defied our comprehension.  Many of us are still wrapping our minds around this pandemic and how it has upended civilization. Yes, we are trying to make sense of the dimensions of this profound societal interruption and extrapolating about what the future holds. We are not sure about the future, but we should try to help each other out.

Drastic times require drastic actions, deferring mortgage payments, foreclosure, and evictions are just prolonging the misery.  Rather than delaying all these payments from those in the lower end of the economic strata, these payments should be forgiven for at least three months. If we are serious about staving off the plague imposing a quarantine is not enough, we should also provide financial relief to the poorest among us.

Social solidarity should be as contagious as this virus that has kept us confused, dazed, and at home for the last two weeks.

Thank you for reading.

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Photo Credit: Picture used in this piece was purchased from Bigstock.

Sources Consulted.
Elmahrek, Adam, Amy Kaufman, and Ben Poston.  “Doctors selling tests to select patients.” Los Angeles Times 23 March 2020.
McNulty, Charles.  “Mastering the art of doing nothing.”  Los Angeles Times 22 March 2020.
Penney, Joe. “African nations turn their tables, imposing travel restrictions against the U.S. Europe, and China to stave off Coronavirus.” The Intercept 15 March 2020.
Smith, Allan.  “Rand Paul says amid criticism that more Americans should be able to get tested for coronavirus.”  nbcness.com 23 March 2020.
Tsui, Bonnie. “Coronavirus exposes America, the beautiful and the ugly.” San Francisco Chronicle 14 March 2020.
Twohey, Megan, Steve Eder and Marc Stein “Need a Coronavirus Test? Being Rich and Famous May Help.” The New York Times 18 March 2020.

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