One million deaths. An unthinkable milestone when this pandemic started — and even this gruesome number doesn’t capture who and what we have lost. One million lives lost, dreams unfulfilled, families heartbroken and futures cut short. This loss is unimaginable, and we have only just begun to scratch the surface of how our communities will continue to grapple with this mass death and violence, surely for generations to come. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 has become the third leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer.
As a working Latina mother of two, I feel the ongoing pain and frustration of the pandemic in so many ways. I have lost family members and neighbors to COVID — both old and young. My children, isolated and separated from their best friends during a time in their lives that should be filled with joy and connection, struggled with their mental health and lost critical in-person education. My elderly father had a crushing fall, and his physical therapy, and path to wellness, was greatly delayed. My aunt, Lilia, who suffered from Lupus, died alone because none of us could be with her.
Amid all of this pain, President Joe Biden has dropped most pandemic restrictions, stopped most national tracking, and failed to act on even the most basic federal actions to reign this pandemic in. Disabled and chronically ill Americans have been left adrift — in a maskless world many of my colleagues and friends are unable to safely leave their homes.
We need swift, immediate action at a global level. Fighting this pandemic as if we can defeat it alone has failed. It’s time: President Biden must work with Congress immediately to ensure that supplemental COVID funding includes significant global investments to end the pandemic. Our lives are at stake — and we cannot wait another moment.
Heading into our third year of the pandemic, billions worldwide still don’t have access to COVID vaccines and treatments, continuing to suffer even as pharmaceutical companies reach record profits. Globally, less-wealthy nations have been abandoned to vaccine apartheid, as pharmaceutical companies are selling and distributing vaccines, tests and treatments almost exclusively to wealthy nations. Here in the U.S., it’s communities of color, low-income people and the disabled who face the greatest burden of COVID-19, in terms of death rates but also economically and socially. Those working in lower-wage fields like food and agriculture, warehouse operations, transportation and construction saw higher rates of death than in most other occupations. Working in a nursing home has become one of the deadliest jobs in the country.
The consequences of this pandemic are far reaching and devastating, not just for those we have lost but for the ones they’ve left behind. We have the tools and resources necessary to support our communities and fight health inequity right now — but it’s clear that what is missing is the political will to do so.
Our nation hasn’t seen mass death on a scale like this since World War II, when about 418,000 Americans died. The Atlantic’s Ed Yong puts it into perspective: “The U.S. reported more deaths from Covid-19 last Friday [March 4] than deaths from Hurricane Katrina, more on any two recent weekdays than deaths during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, more last month than deaths from flu in a bad season, and more in two years than deaths from HIV during the four decades of the AIDS epidemic.”
Where is our great reckoning of this mass violence and pain? And more importantly, where is the political will to fight for our futures, for our families, for a road ahead away from this destruction and toward justice, equality, health and resources for all those still suffering and at risk of death?
Since it rejected a $15 billion supplemental for pandemic preparedness that included global vaccine outreach and funding for free vaccines and testing here in the U.S., Congress has not provided us with the funding we need to continue a robust COVID response, even amid new variants and continued pandemic-related economic stress. With cases rising abroad, experts are sounding the alarm that we should expect a rise in cases here in the U.S. as well. Failure to adequately fund these efforts now will have severe and far-reaching consequences, impacting our ability to deal with a future surge.
Moreover, despite widespread messaging that COVID testing is free, many patients have found themselves facing bills for testing — some for over $1,000. According to The New York Times, about 2.4 percent of coronavirus tests billed to insurers in 2020 left the patient responsible for some portion of payment, adding up to hundreds of thousands of Americans who received unexpected bills. Patients were left with these high bills due to gaps in protections that Congress and the Trump administration put in place early in the pandemic — and our communities are still suffering. While ensuring that people trust the vaccine is a high priority, it is also critical that unexpected costs for testing and treatment don’t deter individuals from getting vaccinated.
As we work to ensure the safety of the global community, Democrats must pass supplemental funding without giving in to Republican demands to tie COVID funds to oppressive immigration policies. We cannot allow partisan distractions and anti-immigrant cruelty to distract from this urgent need. The time to act is now, and we cannot leave anyone behind.
A new way of life is here — seemingly forever. But adjusting to the “new normal” is hardly enough, not when an average of 26,000 new cases are recorded every single day, bringing with them the threat of more death, more loss, more futures taken too soon. Mask mandates are being lifted across the country. We have no national funding to support those infected. Uninsured Americans have little to no support.
The time to act has long gone by — our communities, our children and our families deserve better.