Coronavirus Risks in US Go Beyond Getting Sick

Coronavirus Risks in US Go Beyond Getting Sick
Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images

What you need to know

Many American service-industry workers, nurses and students feel exposed in the face of their precarious situations and the U.S. government's bungled response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which has been called "a failure."

Over 25 million people in the United States don't have health insurance. Amanda [name changed: Eds.] is one of them. The young woman lives in Texas and works in the warehouse of a mattress company.

"It’s sad to say but it's not a shocking position to be in. I've been in many positions as precarious as this one." Employees like her get three days of sick leave over the course of a whole year; only two are paid. "I can't afford to stay home, I can't afford to see the doctor."

A simple doctor's visit can quickly cost a couple of hundred dollars. Sheldon Riddle, who lives in Ohio, couldn't afford to see a doctor when he got the flu followed by pneumonia. This was ten years ago but he remembers it well.

He was working at a call center. About 50 employees shared a small space. There was no sick leave, and nobody was allowed to stay home if they were feeling sick, unless they had a note from a doctor.

"With no insurance, that meant going to the emergency room or an urgent care [center] and spending hundreds of dollars we couldn't afford," Riddle said. As a result, he became so sick that only a surgery saved his life. His heart was permanently damaged.

The spread of the coronavirus is making him feel anxious. He is avoiding stores, because of his compromised immune system. "I just refilled all my prescriptions today. Picked them up at a drive-thru pharmacy. I've yet to shop for food. I've cut back to eating one meal a day, and I pick that up at a drive-thru as well."

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Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
Nurses in protective gear talk before administering a drive-through nasal swab test at Life Care Center of Kirkland, a long-term care facility linked to several confirmed coronavirus cases, in Kirkland, Washington, U.S., March 14, 2020.

Between panic and dismissal

As the number of coronavirus infections in the U.S. has continued to balloon, the incomplete and sometimes contradictory information from US officials has caused panic, supply hoarding and a sense of insecurity.

A nurse who works for a clinic in the west coast state of Oregon told DW under the condition of anonymity that coronavirus tests only first became available on Wednesday. Things changed quickly after that.

"Thursday was crazy. The clinic kept revising how to proceed and security protocols kept getting stricter throughout the day. It was intense," the nurse said. The necessary masks and protective clothing were in stock though, the nurse added.

When the governor of Oregon, Kate Brown, announced that all events with more than 250 participants were banned, the situation started feeling more serious, the nurse said. The number of calls to the clinic increased.

People who had traveled to neighboring state Washington now met the conditions to be tested. By that point the state's largest city, Seattle, had already experienced over 20 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

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Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
A woman in a surgical mask uses her cellphone after more cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S., March 11, 2020.

No tests, no coronavirus cases

The number of infections in Oregon remains relatively small, causing many residents to wonder whether this is simply due to the fact that only a few tests have been carried out so far. While South Korea has tested 10,000 people a day, the US hadn't even administered a total of 15,000 tests across the country by Thursday.

Global health expert Ethan Guillen, who worked for the organization Doctors Without Borders during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, fears the U.S. could end up following in Italy's footsteps. There, the coronavirus outbreak has already led to 21,157 confirmed infections, with at least 1,441 deaths. The country remains under a far-reaching lockdown.

Guillen describes the U.S. federal government's response to the coronavirus as "a failure."

"Given the shameful incompetence being shown at the federal level, things could get out of hand," he told DW.

"The U.S. government decided to go its own way on testing for the virus with disastrous consequences," he explains. Not only did the government waste precious time in organizing testing, but the first test kits were also flawed. Guillen adds that, "The initial quarantines were poorly run and lacked basic precautions against the spread of the virus and led to community transmission."

This article was originally published on Deutsche Welle. Read the original article here.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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