covid-19 in pindostan: a policy of malign neglect

Why is Pindostan doing less and less COVID-19 testing?
Bryan Dyne, WSWS, Aug 11 2020

People wait in line outside of a COVID-19 testing site in Opa-locka, Fla,
Thursday Jul 16 2020, (Photo: Lynne Sladky/AP)

On Jun 20, Trump boasted of having told public health officials to reduce the number of tests for COVID-19, the disease that has infected 5.2m Pindos and killed over 166k since the start of the year. Trump declared:

I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down.’

Three days later Trump added:

Cases are going up in Pindostan because we are testing far more… With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!

Top Pindo public health boxtops immediately sought to downplay Trump’s comments, declaring that the Pindo policy was to expand, not decrease, the amount of testing. But without any serious explanation by the government, the number of tests being done every day in Pindosta has dropped significantly over the past two weeks. On Jul 24, Pindostan conducted 926,876 tests, according to the COVID Tracking Project. But that figure had dropped to just 668,546 last Saturday. The average number of daily tests conducted fell from 809,200 on the week ending Jul 26, to 712,112 last week, a decline of 12%. At the same time, tests are often taking over a week to return, making them all but useless in tracking down and isolating those that are infected before the pandemic spreads even further. According to internal data from Quest diagnostics obtained by CNN:

The total average turnaround time for results was 8.4 days.

Public health experts say the level of testing in Pindostan is far too low to contain the disease. An analysis from Ashish Jha and his team at the Harvard Global Health Institute recently showed that it would take 1.2m tests per day, with results back in time to act on them, to stop the number of daily new infections from increasing. It would take 4.3m tests per day, according to Jha, to actually suppress the pandemic. This is more than 6 times the current level of testing and more than 4 times the proclaimed goal of the Trump administration, which had been to reach one million coronavirus tests per day. Amid this massive shortage, Pindo boxtops have admitted they are prioritizing tests for “certain people.” In particular, the wealthy and well-connected are able to take tests and get results within a day, while for ordinary workers results can take up to a week or more, if they are able to get them. Federal funding for testing and contact-tracing, the only measures known to contain the pandemic, stands at less than one percent of total federal spending on the pandemic response – with the vast majority going to bailouts for major corporations. Nationwide, there were just 28,000 contact tracers last month, less than one-tenth of the number called for by former CDC Director Tom Frieden.
Trump has boasted:

Over the past seven days nationwide, cases declined by 14%.

This decline is driven by the decline in testing. Moreover, last month the administration ordered hospitals to bypass the CDC and send all COVID-19 data to a centralized database in Faschingstein, raising fears that the figures are being manipulated. Reports have abounded of discrepancies in state statistics. Last week, the state of California disclosed that as many as 30k health records, mostly related to COVID-19, had not been processed, leading the state’s top health official to resign. For workers, there is no systematic testing, even as they are forced into the factories in unsafe conditions. Autoworkers report being left in the dark by management about outbreaks at their plants, with workers who test positive simply “disappearing” without their co-workers being notified. A statement by the Rank-and-File Safety Committee Network gives a sense of this disaster:

Work is becoming a daily horror movie. At Ford Dearborn Truck in Michigan last week, two people got sick, and they were whisked away and people on the line didn’t know what was going on. At Fiat Chrysler’s Belvidere plant in Illinois, someone tested positive, and they were also snuck off the line by management.

Amid the nationwide testing shortage, officials from both parties are pressing ahead with the drive to reopen schools, which is all but guaranteed to lead to a further escalation of the pandemic. While Trump is leading this campaign, it is supported by governors from both parties. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Demagog, demanded this month that schools reopen throughout the state. The fall in Pindo testing is part of a policy of “malign neglect.” As the WSWS wrote in March:

The Pindo government is making a deliberate decision to minimize their response, to adopt an attitude of indifference to the spread of the virus.

From the beginning, the Pindo political establishment saw the pandemic as an economic, not a health problem. In late March, Congress passed, on a nearly unanimous basis, the so-called CARES Act, which sanctioned the multi-trillion dollar bailout of Wall Street by the Federal Reserve. Once the bailout was passed, the Pindo political establishment demanded that workers get back on the job, despite the fact that the pandemic was raging throughout workplaces and Pindostan lacked the testing and contact tracing infrastructure to contain the disease. As predicted by public health experts, this led to a major resurgence of the pandemic. Now, this campaign is entering a new phase with the reopening of schools, threatening another wave of infection and the lives of thousands of teachers, students and parents. As epidemiologist Michael T Osterholm warned last week:

The next six months could make what we have experienced so far seem like just a warm-up to a greater catastrophe. With many schools and colleges starting, stores and businesses reopening, and the beginning of the indoor heating season, new case numbers will grow quickly.

Serous public health experts are unanimous on how to stop the pandemic: Non-essential businesses must be closed, testing and contract tracing must be massively expanded many times over, and workers must be given the economic resources to stay away from workplaces. But all of these basic public health demands are contrary to the prerogatives of the ruling class, whose only concern is to get workers back into the factories and workplaces. If they die, they can be replaced with others desperate for work. The capitalist class and the politicians, media and police that defend it are ruthless in the defense of profits over human lives. The trillions that have been transferred to the super-rich must be seized back and the resources made available for mass testing and contact tracing, to protect doctors and nurses as they care for the sick and to provide aid for those forced to isolate and quarantine. Factories must be mobilized to make the necessary medical materials as part of a broader socialist program to meet the essential needs of working people for health care, housing, education and jobs.

Pindo nurses’ poll shows appalling working conditions in the pandemic
Julian James, WSWS, Aug 11 2020

Results from a survey on workplace safety recently conducted by the National Nurses United (NNU) have shed light on the myriad dangers Pindo nurses face on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. These appalling conditions are a result of chronic unpreparedness and the reckless actions of hospital administrators. The results were posted on the NNU website and include the following:

  • Only 24% of nurses think their employer is providing a safe workplace.
  • 87% of nurses who work at hospitals reported reusing at least one piece of single-use PPE. Reusing single-use PPE is a dangerous practice that can increase exposures to nurses, other staff and to patients.
  • 4% of nurses who work at hospitals say their employer has implemented a decontamination program to “clean” single-use PPE, such as N95 respirators, between uses. Decontamination of single-use PPE has not been proven to be safe nor effective.
  • Just 23% of nurses reported they have been tested for COVID-19. A lack of testing jeopardizes nurses’ health and safety and their ability to protect their patients and families.
  • 36% of nurses who work at hospitals are afraid of catching COVID-19 and 43% are afraid of infecting a family member.
  • 27% of nurses who work at hospitals reported that staffing has gotten much worse recently. Short staffing is unsafe for patients and nurses. The likelihood of patient death increases by 7% for every additional patient in the average nurse’s workload in the hospital.

These results, together with the testimony of thousands of workers, paint a picture of a health-care system that is incapable of taking basic measures to protect its workers. In private Facebook groups, interviews and through polling, nurses across the country are testifying to the dire workplace conditions and scarcity of essential tools needed for fighting the pandemic, especially virus tests and PPE. This shocking level of unpreparedness was evident in the early stages of the pandemic, when trucks full of bodies idled on the streets of New York and protesting nurses were forced to wear garbage bags instead of medical gowns, has continued into mid-August, five months after the Trump administration declared a national emergency. Asked to comment on the recent poll results, two nurses who both work at small hospitals in Western Massachusetts related their own experiences, on the condition their names be changed to protect their identity. Their statements overwhelmingly confirm the NNU findings. Speaking on PPE and testing, Maya, a nurse in her 30s with 15 years of experience, said:

At the beginning of the pandemic, some staff had to wear trash bags as gowns and staple used masks together because they were falling apart. Now the hospital is “re-sterilizing” masks, not an approved thing at all. Before, you took off your mask as soon as you left the patient’s bedside, and if you needed to go back in you would put on another mask. Now suddenly it’s fine to reuse the same one for a whole week. People got sick from the ‘re-sterilized’ masks, didn’t feel well, had syncopal episodes and were passing out. Massachusetts Nursing Association, our shit union who claims to be all-powerful, fought it so now it’s not ‘forced,’ but we’re still bullied into using them by management. As for testing, we attest to no symptoms every day, but there is no actual testing being done. And if we travel outside Massachusetts, we don’t fall under the same quarantine rules as others. They just want a hot body. They say as long as we’re symptom-free we are fine to work.

Asked to expand on her opinion of the MNA, Maya said:

They’ve been ineffective since I got there. The local people try but don’t get the backing of higher-ups in the union. So yeah, they’ve been horrible, and we pay over a grand a year in dues.

David, another nurse in his 30s working at a semi-rural hospital in Western Massachusetts, spoke about how conditions deteriorated at outset of the pandemic:

We didn’t have access to rapid testing because it initially wasn’t available anywhere. The hospital wouldn’t transfer patients from the Emergency Department to other units until results came back, except for ICU cases and those needing to be moved to another facility. So, patients were backing up in the ED, which used to back up sometimes before the pandemic if there were no beds available, but this was happening on a totally new scale. We still don’t have rapid testing, although the turnaround time has recently improved a lot (6-8 hours now). So there has been an uptick in falls and other predictable bad outcomes because of the buildup of patients. And the hospital’s answer is always more paperwork, which we don’t have time to fill out because we are already scrambling to care for patients. This proliferation of paperwork was already endemic but continues to increase.

David went on to speculate that requirements for ever greater documentation are likely an attempt by the hospital to reduce its liabilities for the increased dangers patients face in a short-staffed ED. In this case, workers who were unable to document their every step could be more easily scapegoated when something goes wrong, even if the failure were due to critical short-staffing. The dangers of low nurse-to-patient ratios are well documented as mentioned on the survey results sheet released by the NNU, which stated:

The likelihood of patient death increases by 7% for every additional patient in the average nurse’s workload in the hospital.

Along with layoffs and wage freezes, maintaining woefully inadequate nurse-to-patient ratios is one of the main ways that hospitals, for-profit and “non-profit” alike, seek to boost their bottom line. Perhaps most essential to hospital balance sheets are the so-called “elective procedures,” a category defined as any procedure that can be scheduled beforehand. In reality, these procedures are often critical, and cover a broad range of treatments, from hip-replacements to surgical removal of cancer cells. In normal times, these operations account for a huge share of the tens-of-billions of dollars in combined profits of hospitals in Pindostan. Revenues resulting from the treatment of COVID-19 patients pale in comparison. As a Reuters article from March pointed out:

Hospitals administrators say high-margin services, such as orthopedic and heart procedures, can account for up to 80 percent of revenue, while infectious disease and intensive respiratory treatments are less profitable.

The connection between the COVID-19 pandemic, falling profits and deteriorating working conditions/job losses is something that health-care workers on the front lines are acutely aware of. As Maya stated:

Hospitals across the country are drowning in debt right now. They only make money from certain departments, and those were all shut down at the beginning of the pandemic. So now we get the cuts and the layoffs. My wages and retirement benefits are frozen for the foreseeable future, and despite all the wage and benefit freezing they did a $6m rebranding. So, all they care about now is elective procedures and I guarantee there will be forced overtime once they get the okay to continue.

Maya also provided a damning account of the reckless decision-making of hospital administrators, their hostility toward workers and how these factors are helping fuel the skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety and nervous breakdowns being experienced by hospital staff throughout Pindostan. She said:

When changes are made, admin doesn’t tell staff and then acts confused as to why none of us are following the rules. At one point, we were pulled from our jobs and redeployed to critical care units after just one four-hour class and one day to shadow. No warning. Never asked if we were okay with it. It was just, ‘If you want your job, you’ll do what we say when we say it.’ And they laughed in our faces when we asked about hazard pay. We are being treated like pawns and our lives very clearly matter to no one. They spout in the news ‘thank you to health-care heroes’ but what thanks do we get? We are all at the max of our emotional and psychological well-being, and most of us are also on psych meds and/or on leave because of this.

This is the state of affairs under capitalism, a system in which the lives of health-care workers, like other members of the working class, are only valued to the degree they can be made to produce profits for stockholders and executives.

New York educators and students denounce Governor Cuomo’s push to reopen schools
Educators Newsletter, WSWS, Aug 11 2020

Teachers in New York protest against unsafe school reopening,
Aug 3 2020. (Photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP)

Last week, the Demagog governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, announced that he would allow schools to reopen for the 4.4m public school students in the state if the statewide infection rate is under 5% of those tested. School districts will be allowed to choose whether or not to resume in-person instruction after a plan has been submitted to the state education department. The week before, the Democratic mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, announced that the city’s 1.1m students would attend a hybrid learning program—which alternates in-person and remote instruction, if the infection rate is under 3% of those tested citywide. Both plans are shoddy and leave so many unanswered questions about the implementation of safety measures for staff and students that educators and parents have widely rejected them as bogus. The WSWS has noted that Cuomo’s announcement is an endorsement of Wall Street’s back-to-work plan to reopen the economy, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in which 1k Pindos are dying daily, so that the working class can generate profit for the ultra-wealthy, regardless of the consequences. The WSWS Educators Newsletter spoke to several educators and students about Cuomo’s announcement. One teacher in the Albany area told us:

We’re experiencing different infection rates in various parts of the state, so local plans make some sense. However, that leaves open the possibility of poorly developed plans, especially among poorly resourced districts and those dominated by right-wing politics. Cuomo’s approach represents an abdication of the state’s responsibility. The state is not providing enough support. Much more money and other aid is needed in order to develop adequate protection plans. These poorly developed plans will probably lead to a spike in infections.

We noted how the infection and death rates in New York state have been reduced considerably since their peaks a few months ago and asked the teacher if he thought it was safe to conduct in-person classes under current conditions. He answered:

No, it is not. “The reductions were due to the use of masks, social distancing, and other protective measures. Reopening will create conditions to renew the spread of the virus. Poorly resourced schools are without proper facilities: ventilation, sanitation, PPE, testing, adequate distancing. Renewed shutdown after infection rates increase, as envisioned by Cuomo, will mean that there are new, unnecessary victims. This is the assumption inherent in Cuomo’s plan.

Discussing whether parents, teachers and students have been adequately consulted in the Albany area, the teacher replied:

Parents are under enormous stress to do right by their children. Those with limited means are under especial pressure, caught between the need to keep their children safe and the need to go to work. The majority opting for keeping their children home, despite the economic pressure, indicates their extreme fear of the disease. Being asked to return to work in an environment that is unsafe for faculty and students is daunting. This is exposing the decades of underfunding of education and lack of adequate facilities such as affordable daycare. This will not be a normal environment, especially for special needs and English-language learners who will be in school five days a week. They will constantly be reminded that they are being singled out and put in increased danger as compared to other students. I expect there will be wildcat strikes as were seen a few years ago in West Virginia and elsewhere. The rhetoric of the unions is becoming more militant, but the plans proposed do not follow their statements. Andy Pallotta [NY state union president] is merely saying to follow state guidelines, while posturing as a defender of teachers. The unions will be okay with sending teachers back into unsafe conditions. The state does the bidding of the ruling class. It is pushing students back to school to get the economy back. What is especially telling is that Cuomo has just recently restated his opposition to raising taxes on the rich because they would leave the state. New York could continue the lockdown if resources from the rich were used to support families and keep children home until adequate testing, tracing and quarantining are in place.

A high-school teacher in Manhattan, who did not want her name used, said that her teenage son had too much difficulty with remote learning. She feels compelled to send him for in-person learning if his school reopens, adding that she is trying to get a personal medical leave so that she can stay home and do remote teaching. She said:

I am terrified because my mother has Alzheimer’s and I am her caregiver. I bring my kids to see her, otherwise she has no visitors. They are throwing teachers back on the fire. All science proves it is dangerous to go back to work. Reopening is not safe. My students take city buses to school. In my neighborhood, most people are not wearing masks, or just hang them off their ears or not covering their noses. I think it is because there has not been enough education by the city government. They should have signs all over and enforce mask wearing. I agree with what I read from the WSWS. In my school a few teachers have formed a committee for safe reopening. We sent a letter to parents that it would not be safe, urging them to choose not to send their children for in-person teaching. One-third of the parents have chosen remote learning for their children. We spoke to the principal and called the other teachers, who generally follow the lead of the principal. 75% of the teachers agreed to the letter and the principal agreed that we could send it but not with a school heading, just as teachers of the school. I have also been able to talk with teachers from other schools who I meet with in a Zoom meeting. The majority of teachers are uncomfortable and against going back. The government is only interested in getting people back to work, not being safe or providing them with what they need.

Richard, an 11th grade student from Brooklyn, New York, told the WSWS:

I’m nervous because I heard that one school that reopened early had to quarantine in the same day. I personally don’t think schools should do in-person learning at all until there’s a vaccine, but I also worry about the impacts of being cooped up in their homes for most of the day, and what this might do for students’ mental health, since humans are naturally social beings. I’m ashamed and disappointed that although we’re considered one of the top countries in the world, we’re basically the country with the most COVID-19 cases, while other countries have gotten it under control. I honestly thought that hospitals were going to offer free care for those with COVID, but I found out that people still have to pay to get treated as if COVID wasn’t anything much. It just shows how much money is of importance in this society and it just saddens me. I think we should just keep unnecessary and non-essential businesses closed for a while, since cases are starting to rise again. Getting drinks and having a haircut or something small like that isn’t all that important and necessary. I feel like if the rich can keep their kids from going to school, why is the public supposed to send their kids to school?

When asked about the Socialist Equality Party’s call for a nationwide general strike, Richard said:

I think the proposal for a national strike to force companies and big businesses to shut down unnecessary businesses is really important and necessary, since we all need to voice our feelings and opinions and to say that ‘this isn’t right.’ Wealth shouldn’t be prioritized over the lives of people and our lives shouldn’t be at risk just so big businesses can continue to operate.

The WSWS Educators Newsletter urges all parents, students and educators who oppose the unsafe reopening of schools and want to form rank-and-file safety committees in their schools and communities to stop the unsafe reopening of schools, to contact us and sign up for our email newsletter today.

One Comment

  1. Posted August 11, 2020 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    from what i understand, the “test” is a joke, not FDA approved for the following reasons: it checks for a particular snippet of RNA and if matched, declares “+”.
    but not only has the virus never been fully sequenced, no one knows whether this RNA chunk is unique to covid or present in many unrelated environments, so what does this “+” tell you?
    nothing.
    of course, the Pharma likes it that way, all the false positives are good for business, pile ’em on.

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