Over the last four months, the world has watched as the Coronavirus overtook parts of China, migrated through the Middle East, into Europe and on to the United States. We watched as the virus tore its way through Iran and Italy. We were provided with documented details of the virus’s effects, but speculated on its lethality, whether or not it was a hoax, and listened as leaders shamed fears by comparing COVID-19 to the common cold.
Rather than learn from the climbing death toll, overflowing hospitals, and shortage of medical supplies, the President of the United States feigned ignorance and named the Democratic Party’s call to action a hoax. Rather than taking those four months to adequately plan, Trump pushed forward with his ‘health care vision’ plan, which according to The New York Times proposed $844 billion in cuts over the span of a decade. And the White House made all of these decisions with no pandemic response team in place. Why? Because the Trump administration pushed out the pandemic response team in 2018 and never replaced them. This meant that for 18 months, not one senior administration official was solely focused on global health security, leaving the United States extremely susceptible to the risks of a pandemic and bioterrorism attack.
The complete lack of responsibility taken by national leadership has set a precedent for state and local governments to delay any call to action, leaving communities and our most vulnerable populations at extreme risk. Georgia is one such example.
When Georgia’s Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey first announced the arrival of the virus in the state, Georgia’s health officials and state leaders repeatedly stated that there was no widespread infection, and most people who may come down with the virus would not face serious harm. When Democrats and health officials took to Twitter to discuss the danger of the virus infecting vulnerable people under the Gold Dome during Georgia’s legislative session, Republican Majority House Whip Trey Kelley was quick to respond that Democrats were free to leave at any time.
But attitudes changed fast. Anyone who was present at the capitol on March 12th could have felt the chill that came over the building when Governor Kemp announced the first confirmed death from the virus. A 67-year-old man with underlying conditions died in Marietta that day. The shift in attitude from Republicans was almost immediate. Calls for self-quarantine were made. Bans on large gatherings were finally put into place, and relief packages were finally being discussed. Schools that hadn’t already shut down were ordered to close. Kids were forced to stay at home and resort to e-learning, a form of digital education only accessible by Internet. But for the children and families without the Internet, it seems that no plan was put in place.
While some applauded the Governor’s response, the fact was it took someone that could have been protected dying in our state for him to take any action. The warnings from health officials and thousands of lives already claimed by the virus hadn’t been enough.
Take a look at responses globally. It took China, a communist country that utilized its lack of democracy to enforce curfews and quarantines in fever centers, four months to contain the virus. They had specialized teams, necessary vendors and equipment, and built a hospital in the span of a week to treat their infected patients. The United States has less than 100,000 ICU beds, and less than 100,000 ventilators. The federal government has yet to release a report estimating the demand COVID-19 will have on hospitals, but based on earlier reports for a moderate flu pandemic, 200,000 beds would be needed.
Then we look at states like Georgia that rank in the bottom one-third of states for the health outcomes of its residents. Half of Georgia counties have no ob/gyn, and several counties have no doctor at all. In the last decade, 7 of Georgia’s hospitals have shut down, which is the third highest in the country. 1.5 million Georgians don’t have health insurance. And even though Medicaid is the second largest provider of medical insurance in the state, Georgia’s governor refuses to expand it to all of Georgia’s poor population. Keep in mind, these are the numbers that were gathered in years of a growing economy. Georgia, like the rest of the nation, is about to face a giant recession due to the growing pandemic. Our poor communities who either don’t have access to a doctor or the money to afford one will continue to face developing world conditions.
Arrogance and ego is what has stood in the way of us protecting innocent lives here in Georgia. Our leadership’s refusal to take preventative action will sadly have little impact on them directly or even on many of our affluent communities, but it has the potential to decimate our poor and sick populations, especially in rural Georgia.
The information listed here feels as though it leaves little room for hope, but this is not the intention. Misinformation and fear has been spread by our political leaders and by our media. The first step in combating chaos is with facts, and that is what this article has named. We can now have a better understanding of what we face. This virus will still heavily impact our state, but it can still be mitigated.
Our communities can come together and make a difference. There is so much we can do.
We can pressure mobile carriers to provide hotspots in areas where broadband isn’t accessible or cannot be afforded. We can create letter-writing programs to seniors and assist them with shopping to prevent them from putting themselves at risk. We can pressure our elected officials to create greater relief packages to small businesses, educators, artists, service workers, and hospitality workers. Communities can pressure large businesses, influencers and celebrities to donate to food banks. We can create emergency funds for people who need help with medical costs. The list goes on, but the important thing to remember is that this can be tackled through education and community efforts.
This is a call to action, directly to Georgia’s leaders. Do not wait any longer. The pandemic is here. It has hit our state, and the reality is that we do not have the infrastructure to support it. US infection numbers have been growing at the same rate as Italy, and it seems that soon, like Italy, US hospitals will have to decide who will get to live and who will die. As the leaders of our state, you have the capability to push for better, beyond the status quo set by the Federal Government. Our local governments can do better than that, and more than ever, they must. Delays in response cost lives, so delay no longer.
Daniel Blackman is a respected community leader, impact investor, and policy advisor committed to fighting for environmental justice, public health, and political empowerment to uplift America’s most vulnerable communities. He is a candidate to serve on Georgia’s Public Service Commission District 4.
“Working Families should not have to choose between keeping the lights on or putting food on the table; and Senior Citizens on fixed incomes should never have to choose between paying for their medications or their home energy bill. The People of Georgia deserve a fearless and consistent voice on their Public Service Commission. I would be honored to be that voice, and even more honored to earn your support.” —Daniel Blackman, Candidate, Georgia’s Public Service Commission District 4.