Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “Given a virus for which there is no immunity and no immunization, we have to understand that many people will be infected. The consensus among experts is that 60 to 70 percent of the population will be infected.”
While many are lambasting that as damaging fear mongering, it seems that the United States could be facing just such a doomsday scenario.
For many, the outlook on COVID-19 is looking bleak: Coronavirus could kill 5M Americans, in part because, without paid sick leave and nationalized health care, individuals will likely not cooperate with self-quarantine. I’ve written about that more here.
It is worth taking a pause to be thankful that this contagion has a fatality rate that is as low as it is — even a 5% or 10% fatality rate would cast a much darker shadow on the days to come.
While there’s little hope to be found in successful containment in America, there is great hope that this expose many of the flaws in our current systems, and teach us lessons while the stakes low, relatively speaking — imagine if the mortality rate was in the double digits.
Lesson One: Paid Sick Leave Protects More Than Just Sick Employees
Perhaps the easiest lesson to learn will be the importance of paid sick leave. Currently viewed as a luxury that benefits only the afflicted employee, COVID-19 is likely to demonstrate the value of keeping people home when they’re sick. Without paid sick leave, it’s nearly impossible to control and contain without shutting down businesses.
Seeing that paid sick leave is a layer of protection for not just sick employees, but also the patrons and citizens they come into contact with, should help shift public opinion on that from a payroll luxury of sorts to an important and necessary public health measure.
Lesson 2: Access To Health Care Benefits the Community, Not Just The Individual
The next gap we can hopefully move towards closing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak is that of public health coverage. Without free access to health care providers, the symptomatic working class cannot be relied upon to be getting the treatment they need when a contagion breaks out.
One step further, those that do not seek out treatment to avoid the financial burden it will put upon them cannot be tested and even be given the order that quarantine is necessary. By having at least a public option that covers all Americans, we greatly decrease the chances that a sick person avoids treatment, and in turn, greatly increase the chances that they don’t get others sick.
Lesson 3: Individualism Is Toxic When Part of a Large Group
On a more ideological scale, perhaps this will be the turning point where Americans start to abandon rugged individualism in favor of lifting up communities at large. It’s one thing to want to rely only on self when one lives in a rural, sparsely populated area. With limited contact with others already, it doesn’t take a great change in habits and behaviors to quarantine ill individuals.
It’s quite another beast to lean towards individualism in major cities where the interests of the individual can be in direct conflict to the interests of the communities, and thus the thousands of individuals within it.
With our current system in place, we are going to see that individuals, desperate to cover their rent and their bills, are going to be willing to put others at risk of infection. They have little other choice; being homeless is a far greater concern to the individual than infecting someone else with a virus they themselves must already endure. If the community can’t first protect the interests of the individual, it will surely never be able to protect the interests of the community. And in failing to do so, we threaten the best interest of all Americans.
Change is rarely without pain. It appears likely that thousands, millions, may lose their lives during the COVID-19 outbreak. May we all dig deep into our conscience, and learn what we must to ensure that next time, we’ll be better.
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