Pandemic exposes vulnerabilities in healthcare industry
But it will also catalyze much needed changes in public health
What a tumultuous few months we’ve been through since March! All projections that I alluded to in my last column are now obsolete. In the last two months, the United States secured the top rank in the world in terms of number of positive coronavirus cases, number of people who lost their lives to the virus, and the number of people who lost employment or income due to the pandemic. We have seen denial of the pandemic in other countries, for example, Brazil, the United Kingdom during the early days of the pandemic and Mexico, but the drama that unfolded in the United States for the last few months was unparalleled. Being a large country with a diverse population, deeply polarized political landscape and inequitable distribution of health conditions, resulted in severe loss of human lives and economic opportunities.
The responsibility to provide adequate response to the pandemic was left to the states, local authorities, businesses and even ordinary citizens with very little federal coordination. Lagging testing capabilities became a barrier to a “test, trace and isolate infected patients” strategy, causing the disease to widely spread.
The country went through shelter-in-place for weeks and even months in some places, causing small- and medium-sized businesses to furlough or lay off employees or file for bankruptcy. Congress passed an historic $2 trillion CARES Act to provide paycheck protection loans to businesses of all sizes and $1,200 one-time payment to Americans who earned less than $75,000 per year. For a family of four with two dependent children earning less than $150,000 per year, it amounted to $3,400. That provided some relief, but still the economic toll was severe. According to the updated data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment reached about 19.7% at the end of April. In May, 2.5 million jobs were added causing the updated unemployment to come down to 16.3%, still a very sobering number that matches that of the 1930s Great Depression.