By Kenny Stancil
A progressive coalition called the People’s CDC on Tuesday criticized the federal government for releasing a “horrifying set” of relaxed public health guidelines earlier this month and urged lawmakers to allocate sufficient funding to ensure that everyone has free access to masks, tests, treatments, vaccines, and other resources needed to defeat Covid-19.
“The pandemic is far from over,” the People’s CDC said in a statement, pointing to hundreds of Covid deaths per day in the U.S. alone, rising child hospitalizations, and a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing that roughly 20% of adults develop longterm symptoms or complications after being infected, often called Long Covid.
“At the People’s CDC, we know that we can keep each other safe. We know that we can do better—and that together, we can fight for a just and equitable pandemic response,” the coalition added, urging people to sign a letter calling on President Joe Biden and members of Congress to “use all the tools available to keep us all safe.”
The letter denounces “the disgraceful new CDC Covid guidelines” published on August 11. “Four hundred people are dying daily in the U.S. alone. Thousands are becoming severely and chronically ill from a preventable disease. Due to the constant evolution of new Covid variants, the U.S. has been in a surge—currently seeing high or substantial transmission in 99% of U.S. counties—since early June.”
“The guidelines place the responsibility of public health onto individuals, without providing individuals [with] proper resources or support,” says the letter. “This is unacceptable. We need responsible, clear CDC guidelines that will keep our communities and our loved ones safe.”
The letter implores the White House and Congress “to act to stop the unchecked spread of Covid-19, immediately,” by providing:
-Free access to N95-grade masks for all;
-Free access to PCR and rapid testing;
-Robust, universal, paid sick leave;
-Mask mandates in public places, including schools, public transport and medical facilities;
-Federal funding and guidance for ventilation and filtration updates, coupled with meaningful regulation;
-Universal access to healthcare including continued Covid treatment and testing for uninsured people; and
-Updated vaccines and universal access to them globally.
“You must choose a healthier, more equitable pandemic response,” the letter concludes. “We all deserve better.”
The letter comes just days after the Biden administration announced that it plans to suspend the distribution of free at-home diagnostic tools on Friday, September 2 “because Congress hasn’t provided additional funding to replenish the nation’s stockpile of tests.”
Just over a week ago, it was revealed that the Biden administration is taking steps to stop purchasing Covid-19 vaccines and treatments in the coming months.
Tahir Amin, an intellectual property lawyer and co-executive director of the Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge (I-MAK), called the plan a “recipe for disaster, unless you are a pharmaceutical company or other profit center in the healthcare market.”
Shifting the acquisition of Covid-19 jabs and therapeutics from the federal government to the commercial market is also the result of congressional inaction—specifically right-wing obstructionism.
Funding for the pandemic response is quickly disappearing. Although the White House in February asked Congress to provide $30 billion to fight the public health emergency at home and abroad, opposition from Republicans has prevented a much smaller package from moving forward.
GOP lawmakers want to repurpose aid allocated to states under the American Rescue Plan, insisting that no new relief money should be greenlit until existing finances are depleted, and they are opposed to any amount of new spending aimed at strengthening international efforts to defeat Covid-19—a disease that has been made far deadlier by global vaccine apartheid.
Republicans’ refusal to provide more funding has led to what Adam Gaffney, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard University and a pulmonary and intensive care unit doctor, earlier this year characterized as “the rationing of Covid-care by ability to pay.”
Gaffney said that in March, after a federal health agency tasked with covering coronavirus testing and treatment for uninsured people in the U.S. ran out of funds and stopped accepting claims, a move that has led to patients being charged $125 for a single PCR test.
In May, the Biden administration announced that it is preparing to ration vaccines due to Senate Republicans’ persistent stonewalling of new pandemic spending.
“Four hundred people are dying daily in the U.S. alone. Thousands are becoming severely and chronically ill from a preventable disease. Due to the constant evolution of new Covid variants, the U.S. has been in a surge—currently seeing high or substantial transmission in 99% of U.S. counties—since early June.”
In addition, the White House earlier this month stopped buying monoclonal antibody treatments, transferring that responsibility to states and hospitals.
Gaffney, the past president of Physicians for a National Health Program, called the proposal to commercialize the procurement and provision of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments a “terrible idea.”
“We must push back,” Gaffney wrote recently on social media. “Free provision of vaccinations, Paxlovid, and monoclonals has been critically important—even if disparities persisted.”
Experts have warned that a coronavirus surge this fall and winter could infect up to 100 million people in the U.S. alone, leading to one million hospitalizations and almost 200,000 deaths in a worst-case scenario.
People in the U.S. have died from Covid-19 at a significantly higher rate than their counterparts in other wealthy nations—and poor counties in the U.S. have suffered twice as many deaths as rich ones.
The country’s pandemic death toll, progressives argue, reflects its deeply unequal socio-economic order, which lacks lifesaving rights like universal healthcare, paid sick leave, and other benefits enjoyed in places where union density is higher.
A single-payer healthcare system such as Medicare for All could have prevented more than 338,000 Covid-19 deaths nationwide, a recent analysis found.
Kenny Stancil is a staff writer with Common Dreams. This article is republished from Common Dreams under a Creative Commons license.
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