As we all get increasingly concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic consequences, when and how this story in going to end, appeasing our minds is a good place to start, focusing on taking care of ourselves and how to take care of each other. Also, it is a great opportunity to elevate our individual and community consciousness by reflecting on the consequences of this event.
Many years back, I was involved in a program that supports friends and family of alcoholics. Those were challenging times but also a great opportunity for personal growth.
While collecting thoughts for this article, I remembered a phrase we used to repeat frequently in the program: “When you point a finger at someone, there are three more fingers pointing back at you.”
As a person involved in media and communication, I try to stay informed about the coronavirus pandemic without falling into panic or disbelief. On the opposite, I try to make sense of the information I get by standing back a step or two while trying to place the information in a broader context.
We have lived through other scary and devastating situations in the United States: Katrina, Sandy and Maria, just to name a few hurricanes; wild fires in the West; tornados in the Mid-West; the 2007-2009 Great Recession, and finally the attack on 9/11, which many Americans have sworn “Never (to) Forget.” What have we learned from these experiences so far, and what should we never forget?
The first finger pointing back: Demonizing other countries for starting the pandemic
The blame of the COVID-19 pandemic’s origin keeps going back and forth between China and the USA. Is it a lab virus, is it zoonotic –originated in animals and transmitted to humans– or the act of God to punish people? These and other versions are pouring on social media like mountain rivers flooding in the spring.
According to global health experts, coronaviruses are a family of virus, and COVID-19 is the novel, the 7th in its family, and not the last. “That is not a maybe, that’s a given,” says Alanna Shaikh, a global health consultant who specializes in individual, organizational and systemic resilience. She studies the interaction between populations and health systems. A graduate from Georgetown and Boston University, Shaikh was in Congo to study the evolution of Ebola virus a few years back.
Kate Jones, chair of ecology and biodiversity at UCL, calls emerging animal-borne infectious diseases an “increasing and very significant threat to global health, security and economies.” With a team of researchers, Jones has identified 335 emerging infectious diseases that have started affecting humans since the 1960s, including HIV, SARS and Ebola, all of them believed to be of zoonotic origin.
“The disruption of pristine forests driven by logging, mining, road building through remote places, rapid urbanization and population growth is bringing people into closer contact with animal species they may never have been near before,” she says.
These experts agree recent epidemics and now pandemics are the result of how we are interacting with the planet, making the world more hospitable to unknown viruses and bacteria by destroying jungle for farming, hunting wild animals to extinction, and pushing the boundaries of the natural world while invading last wild places in our planet
- The second finger pointing back: “Authoritarian regimes” are more successful at controlling the pandemic
Some Asian countries are handling the crisis more effectively than European countries and the USA. If authoritarian regimes -which not all of them are- managed to flatten the contagion curve, other factors might be at the base of this success.
According to STAT Plus, a biopharma, health policy, and life science analysis publication, in its March 20, 2020 issue stated that “China, which is now diagnosing more cases in returning travelers than in people infected at home, reported no new domestically acquired cases on Wednesday, for the first time in more than two months. South Korea, which had an explosive outbreak that began in February, is aggressively battering down its epidemic curve. Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan have together reported only about 600 cases.”
The article continues to explain a detailed number of aggressive measures these Asian countries have taken to contain the pandemic consequences. In summary, it seems that forcing millions into quarantine with hefty fines for non-compliant individuals, isolating borders, and banning travel from China –where the pandemic is believed to have started– were effective decisions followed by rapid response of the population in these countries.
However, and most importantly, testing, testing and testing the population to identify all cases –suspected and actual infected patients– seems to be key to a faster recovery.
“More than a quarter million people had been tested by March 15, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told the BBC recently,” the article continues. “Testing is central because that leads to early detection. It minimizes further spread and it quickly treats those found with the virus,” the article quotes the Foreign Minister, who suggests only early detection and fast treatment of cases is the response to lower rate deaths.
Now how can these measures be achieved in such a short notice? These “authoritarian regimes” have universal health systems that encourage people to be tested and treated.
- Healthcare in China consists of both public and private medical institutions and insurance programs. About 95% of the population has at least basic health insurance.
- Singapore largely consists of a government-run universal healthcare system with a significant private healthcare In addition, financing of healthcare costs is done through a mixture of direct government subsidies, compulsory savings, national healthcare insurance, and cost sharing.
- The South Korean healthcare system is run by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and is free to all citizens at the point of delivery.
- Hong Kong’s healthcare system is divided into two options: public healthcare and private medical care. If you opt for the public healthcare option, you do not need private Hong Kong health insurance. The government provides all public healthcare services free of charge or for a small fee.
Instead, many Americans are afraid of showing up at a health facility, or calling to be tested or treated because of lack of health coverage. Others are losing their benefits while losing their jobs. Most needed cases had to wait for state governments to take extraordinary measures and subsidize testing, as time goes by…
Data from the US Census Bureau indicates that a total of 27.5 million Americans had no health insurance during 2018. The insured population decreased in more than a decade after the American Care Act (ACA) was enacted in 2010.
A study published by KFF.org has concluded that, at this time, the majority of uninsured Americans come from low-income households. Adults are at a higher risk of being uninsured compared to children and the elderly, as are people of color when compared to whites. We will see how these numbers reflect in COVID-19 pandemic consequences in cases and deaths statistics.
3.The third finger pointing back: Success depends on each individual to be responsible for their choices and managing their own life.
In the US, we have seen an explosion of the pandemic that is now growing bigger and faster than in all other countries including Italy and China. Americans have been left to make their own choices with loser guidelines and “stay at home” unenforced directives.
The efforts of the federal government as well as individual states and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have been chaotic and not synced, distributing confusing information to the media, and leaving the burden of the pandemic response to states that have been hit more intensively.
The US Northeast is now the world epicenter of the pandemic.
People’s response, on the other hand, has been uneven and irresponsible in some cases, including carrying out massive events, weddings, galas, and smaller events, and continuing abroad and domestic travel. Politicians are afraid of criticism and voters’ retaliation if they try to impose more stringent measures to their constituents.
Companies are laying off -over 3.3MM new unemployment applications were reported last week– and people are left to act and survive on their own. Some have not yet recovered from hurricanes and the 2007-2009 Great Recession. They are now facing this threat without valuable resources.
But this was not America 50 years ago. Before President Reagan took office and advocated for the free-market economics, the country’s social contract was based on higher wages and reliable benefits to workers and employees provided by main employers.
The New Deal era –1930s to 1970s–, created an environment for strong unions because of limited global competition and more regulated legislation on businesses and corporations. The label “made in USA” was the sign of innovation and ingenuity in the world. In a sense, it was a “profit-share” agreement between employers and employees, who received higher salaries, benefits and pensions for them and their families.
According to Josh Freedman and Michael Lind, “Part of the motivation was cultural: Before the notion of shareholder capitalism took root in the 1980s, companies viewed it as part of their mission to act in the interest of all of their stakeholders, including workers and their communities, rather than in the interest of investors alone. However, companies also favored the arrangement because providing benefits to workers directly gave them some leverage against labor unions.”
And then came the 80s with the trickle-down economy and the idea that taxes on businesses and the wealthy should be reduced to stimulate investment in the short term while benefiting society at large in the long term.
In the last five decades, the pay gap between top executives and workers has widened exponentially, now a CEO making 278 times the average worker. Since the 1980s, the compensation for a CEO rose 1,007.5% compared to an increase of 11.9% for average workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Salaries’ growth started to lower down while accumulation of wealth began to concentrate at the top. The wealth was not directed to innovation and ingenuity but to create financial instruments to gather and serve massive stakeholders’ investments.
With the popularization of the Internet in the 90s and the globalization of trade, American companies started to manufacture abroad to lower costs for their products while wildly increasing margin profits. But the results of this benefit did not trickle down to American workers, as we know it.
Companies moved away from commitment to their workers and communities in exchange for a low-wage social contract. The reasoning? If prices of goods were lower –although margins were higher–, then why raise wages?
With lower corporate taxes and a less regulated economy, the State had to become the welfare provider for increasingly impoverish populations. Women started to work outside the home to make ends meet. Now a family required two salaries to provide for their basic needs.
Even if basics like clothing and food were more accessible, “… other necessary services—health care, daycare, eldercare, and college—have simultaneously become less affordable and more important as most mothers work outside of the home and the wage premium for college remains high,” the article says.
And it continues, “In 1960, the average family spent about $12,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars on childcare, education, and healthcare over the course of 17 years raising a child. Four decades later, the average family spends almost $63,000 per child. Medical out-of-pocket expenses now push more people below the poverty line than tax credits can lift above it,” said Freedman and Lind.
Now, and more importantly, these economics changes would not have been possible if a strengthening of the self-determination theory had not been popularized to support such economic development.
In 1985, the work of psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan introduced the idea of Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation in Human Behavior. The idea behind the theory suggested that people tend to be driven by “motivation,” biological, emotional, social, and cognitive forces that activate behavior. The result suggests that people who are not motivated cannot be successful in life and properly provide for themselves and their families.
Is there a silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic?
So here we find ourselves completing the full circle and coming to “the perfect storm,” a combination of events or circumstances creating an unusually bad situation: The explosion and pandemic consequences in a society that pushes a false sense of “freedom” in the choices people make and how they manage their own decisions, coupled by a large number of uninsured population, and the spread of blame instead of taking responsibility for the damage we have been consistently provoking in our planet and a lack of strategic planning in the face of the unknown.
Eastern societies are responding better and quicker to the pandemic because their philosophy of life reaffirms that people’s actions and thoughts are part of a society’s continuum that creates the meaning of life.
The true sense of “me” is found around them as a part of a bigger plan, a belief that each individual plays a part for the good of society. The main principle is unity and they act in consequence.
As I mentioned at the beginning, we went through several disasters before, natural disasters or man-made disasters like 9/11. I was in this country at the time, and I remember the intense sense of collective mourning, community and solidarity that lasted for a few weeks.
But what we sworn “never to forget” was not the positive aspects of the aftermath, the ones that brought us together as a nation, the pain and the recognition of our vulnerabilities.
In the face of COVID-19, are we going to come together, stronger and better, as our political leaders love to proclaim?
Would we finally learn that the greater good comes from leaving our personal ambitions aside? How would nations come together to face the consequences of these actions, understanding that no country is isolated and left to face adversities on their own as neither are their populations?
This too shall pass but the consequences of our actions will tell how we have grown as humankind and how many other lessons we will still need to learn.
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