Capitalism is the Real Pandemic

by Tina Phillips

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on all our lives. Some more than others. We are all going through this, but not all are experiencing it the same way. Those who are poor, don’t have savings, don’t have a way to pay their bills, are forced to work, or have an essential job, are experiencing this with greater hardship. And those of color are being hit the worst, particularly African-Americans. There are parents working from home while trying to homeschool their kids. There are hospital workers exposed to the virus every day while tending to the sick who die without their loved ones. Some of those hospital workers are getting sick too, some die, some by the virus, some by sucide due to PTSD. There are people scared that their elderly parents or grandparents might become infected, because they are more likely to die from it. Everyone has a unique situation, but we are all in various stages of grief, stress, and change.

As a medical social worker working in home health, my industry has been impacted a lot. Most of my patients are elderly and they are afraid to be on home health. Home health is where a team of medical professionals come to visit you at home to provide care and services, such as physical therapy or nursing. Some of  my patients are scared to let me in their home, petrified I could give them the virus that may kill them. It’s heartbreaking. My caseload has dropped significantly over the past month.

I scrambled to get another home health job to try to put together enough working hours to survive on. But after I got that job, no patients were assigned to me. The fear and panic surrounding COVID-19 has made it so I can barely work. My job also had a hard time getting me any personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks and hand sanitizer. I eventually got some, but it’s a small supply.

Moreover, I was worried about the risk of getting COVID-19 from my patients. I have rheumatoid arthritis. I am on a medication that suppresses my immune system, making it more likely that I will get infections. I also have several risk factors that could potentially make COVID-19 very bad for me. In the beginning, my job was making employees continue to go into patient’s homes. This caused a lot of anxiety for me and for the patients. Eventually, they changed the policy so we have to go to their front door. From there we  can see them from several feet away and then go to our cars and call them to do our visit. 

For a time, I thought I may have to visit known COVID-19 patients and this made me the most anxious. But recently, I was told they would only take volunteer employees to do this work. When I told my boss I felt it was too risky for me, given my health status, I was left seeing only about two patients a week, off of which I can’t make a living. I decided to file for unemployment due to the reduced hours. But, one million people in California applied for unemployment around the same time. So, they were backed up and it took awhile to get my unemployment. Thankfully I have since. 

My wife and I got the stimulus money from the government and our tax rebate at the same time. We lived off of that, combined with her income, until I got unemployment. I worry that unemployment benefits will not be extended though. My wife has also continued to work because her job is also deemed essential. She manages inventory in a cannabis dispensary. At least she doesn’t work with the public, but now they are also wearing masks at work. They have also been fairly busy because people have been stressed and are panic-buying. Our jobs have continued to be stressful, adding to the stress we have over COVID-19. The future is so uncertain. 

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the first shelter in place order was put in place in the country. We have been sheltering in place for about two months now. Our infection rates have remained relatively low because of this, especially compared to hot spots like New York. However, we are now beginning to see evidence that COVID-19 has been in the Bay Area for at least a few months. A person who died in February was confirmed to have it. Antibody tests being given here show there are some people who already had COVID-19 and many didn’t know it. Many people with the virus are asymptomatic, but can still pass the virus on to others. COVID-19 is very contagious and dangerous.

It’s not the “typical flu,” as some have said. It damages the body of even those who are young and relatively healthy. So far almost 100,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Because of its highly contagious nature loved ones are not allowed into the hospitals. And many die without their loved ones there, which is awful. COVID-19 attacks the lungs and stops people from being able to breathe. It has shown to have other severe symptoms involving the heart, the brain, kidneys, and cause deadly blood clots. 

Our healthcare system is not very good and that has led to increased infections and deaths. President Trump knew about COVID-19 for months and did not do much to prevent its spread. Other countries had strict measures such as mass testing, quarantining those who tested positive, checking temperatures, and tracking sick people; which lead to less infections and deaths. Trump could have helped us, but instead hurt us, and it hasn’t gotten much better since. These measures are still not being done in America on a mass scale. If you go to a hospital right now, odds are you won’t even get tested for COVID-19 because of the shortage of test kits. The shortage of PPE is also nation-wide and the federal government has done a poor job of helping hospitals and medical professionals obtain gloves, masks, and ventilators that are needed for those who can’t breathe on their own.

We are lucky to live in California because our governor has taken COVID-19 very seriously and martialed resources from the start to ensure our hospitals were better equipped. There have been several good measures in California, such as a moratorium on evictions, grant programs for small businesses, free motels for some homeless, some stimulus money to undocumented immigrants, and food delivery programs for the elderly. 

Congress was slow to act, but eventually passed a bill that provided a $1,200 stimulus to most Americans through the CARES Act. But this is just a one time payment and we will need more. The bill also promised student loan freezes, and I was able to put my student loan on forbearance with no interest until September. It was also supposed to increase PPE, but so far I haven’t seen this in my job. There was also supposed to be additional unemployment benefits, $600 a week, to help people get by. But not many have seen this come through yet. Bernie Sanders is actually the reason that provision was added. Unfortunately, Republicans insured that the bill was also a huge giveaway slush fund to corporations and the rich. Are you surprised? I’m not. 

Being a hyper-capitalist country has really set us back in surviving this pandemic. Capitalism didn’t create  COVID-19 exactly, but it in part caused the ensuing crisis. Our society isn’t set up to effectively address what it’s going to take to help people survive this. Capitalism is making things so much worse because it’s not allowing us to martial the government the way it should be during this time, and it’s not allowing us to do whatever it takes to help people. 

Republicans and Democrats alike have overall not helped us in the way we need. So far Trump has done a bad job and has not only said dangerous things that have further harmed people, he is pushing to “re-open” the country and get people back to work. He is doing this just so the stock market recovers, people won’t need “handouts,” and his reelection chances go back up. Many others joined him from Republican governors, to Fox News contributors, and Wall Street guys. It’s a literal death cult of capitalism. 

It doesn’t seem like the government wants to help us get through this safely. They want to force us back to work, where we can get and spread this thing further, or even die or inadvertently kill a loved one. All they seem to care about is money for themselves and their rich friends. Right now people cannot pay their bills, their rent, their car payments, or even buy food; and there hasn’t been another bill from Congress to rescue us. And I hope there will be, but I fear there won’t. 

Several friends of mine have gotten COVID-19. And from their experience, I can say it’s no picnic. It’s very rough and sad that anyone has to go through it. Personally, I fear more of my friends will get this and suffer tremendously. I fear that I or my wife may get this, and we both have underlying chronic illnesses, making us at risk for a severe case. I fear the most that my parents will get this, because they are in their 70s, and both have chronic illnesses that would likely lead to their deaths. For this reason, I have stopped visiting them as often. When I do, I stand six feet away unless I am doing direct care for my mom who has dementia; in which case I wear a mask. I can’t kiss or hug my beloved mother, who has end stage dementia, and I don’t know how much time she has left. It tears me up inside. 

I also fear my job becoming almost nonexistent because I work with the elderly and they don’t want to come in contact with us right now out of fear. And this may continue for who knows how long, even after they lift shelter in place orders. It is very stressful and disheartening being trapped in our homes, not being able to do what we want or enjoy, having to wear masks in public, having to stand six feet away from people, not being able to see friends and family, and standing in long lines at the grocery store just to find they don’t have what need.

However, what is worse is seeing all these deaths that were preventable, and the systemic racism that has led to the disproportionate deaths of African-Americans, a community that has historically suffered enough, shatters me inside. The Latino community too. Moreover, knowing we have no way to survive economically long term without help from the federal government, which has been slow to act, enrages me. The prospect of people being forced back to work, and risking getting and spreading the virus brings me great anxiety. We need comprehensive help that would address all the gaps, and we need it now! 

Furthermore, it upsets me that many people deny that COVID-19 is a serious threat. They should want to keep safe and keep others safe as possible! But alas, denial and ignorance are deadly actors. So far, the only individual I have known personally that died from COVID-19 is my Great Aunt Rosie, my grandmother’s sister. We were not very close and she was fairly old. But it just makes me fear more people I know will die. The anticipatory grief is overwhelming sometimes. 

We are all going through so much trauma and there is no real social safety net to catch us. We don’t have universal healthcare. People are afraid to go to the hospital to be treated for COVID-19 because of the cost. Not only does this put them at risk, it puts others at risk. Everything seems to be working against us. 

And all we have left is each other. This time has brought many people together. Neighbors, family, friends, and community. People are helping each other any way they can, including through mutual aid projects. I decided to cook homemade meals and bring them to the elderly and other vulnerable people. But as we go on, life will not be sustainable if we don’t get the help we need from the government. They have not only put us in a worse situation, but they are making it even worse every day by their inaction. 

The truth is capitalism is the real pandemic. We will only survive this if we ban together and organize, strike, and fight like hell for the living. We must refuse to die for capitalism. COVID-19 may have exposed the cracks in the capitalism system, but it’s up to us to build a better world out of the shell of the old. And only socialism will do that. 

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