The best cure for COVID-19: universal healthcare

Nora Fellas, Opinion Lead Editor

COVID-19 has killed 4,973 people and the Coronavirus has infected 134,700, as of March 13, according to Johns Hopkins; but beyond the obvious effects, the pandemic has exposed the failings of the American healthcare system. 

The conventional wisdom is that the best way to prevent the spread of the virus, in the absence of a vaccine, is to stay home if you have it. Unfortunately, many don’t know when they have it, not only because of the roughly two week incubation period and lack of visible symptoms in teenagers, but also because the United States has tested far fewer people than other countries. Additionally, while many students across the nation are enjoying our extra week off of school, many Americans see time off of work as a financial burden because their employer is not paying them for the hours they are missing. 

As of March 12, the United States had tested 11,000 people in total, while South Korea and England are testing 10,000 every day, and China has tested millions of people. During a visit to the CDC in Atlanta, on March 6, President Trump said, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test,” but compared to other countries, this is clearly untrue. The U.S. number is so low because the CDC had harsh guidelines as to who warranted testing: up until March 12, one could only be tested if they were both symptomatic and had traveled to a country with a large outbreak, like China. Now, the CDC has said doctors can use their judgement as to who can be tested, but should still prioritize those who have been in proximity to a known case. Because so many Americans don’t know they have the virus, it continues to spread. While some drive-in testing centers are being constructed, including one in New Rochelle, there aren’t nearly enough to handle a pandemic, and many doctors still don’t have access to enough testing kits.

Further, because Americans are not guaranteed healthcare as a human right, many Americans who are symptomatic may not report it because of the financial burden. The New York Times reported on an American family that was charged $3,918 when they were mandatorily tested for COVID-19 after they were evacuated from China to America. Currently, 27 million Americans lack health insurance, according to The Washington Post, and even those with private insurance have high-deductible plans, meaning even with their insurance they may owe thousands of dollars. For many Americans, including this family, $3,918 is a huge financial burden and could deter people from taking necessary medical action if they show symptoms. 

Moreover, because 25 percent of Americans do not have paid sick leave, if they were to contract the virus, 1 in 4 Americans would be faced with a tough choice: stay home and go without a paycheck – possibly jeopardizing their living situation and access to food – or go to work sick, and probably continue to spread the virus. Without guaranteeing sick leave, the United States government is telling its poorest citizens to continue to work and risk spreading the disease further. 

While we can’t develop a vaccine overnight – in fact, a vaccine isn’t expected for over a year – policy change could prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout America and beyond. First, we must make testing a priority through the expansion of who qualifies to be tested, making good on Trump’s promise: “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.” Additionally, we must eliminate costs associated with testing and treatment, and guarantee paid medical leave to every American. 

Currently, there are talks among Democratic lawmakers about providing medical leave compensation and making testing free, however, this has been met with resistance from their Republican colleagues. President Trump said on Wednesday night, that in emergency times like these, he would support paid sick; however, on Friday in the Rose Garden, Trump said that the Democrats “are not giving enough” and that he didn’t support the bill at this time. But rather than having such relief be an ad hoc response to a crisis, the COVID-19 illustrates the need for universal healthcare. 

We need to follow in the footsteps of Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom – all of which boast universal healthcare policies, and thus don’t have citizens who are afraid to report their symptoms for fear of bankrupting medical bills. Like every pandemic, COVID-19 will eventually die out, but it won’t be the last time we are faced with a medical emergency. Thus, we cannot be satisfied with a quick fix – rather, we need long term solutions which can be applied to future pandemics, and the first step is universal healthcare.