Despite the way mainstream media framed Joe Biden’s diagnosis as a positive, public health is failing in America
The US is caught in a never-ending cycle of infection and reinfection with regard to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Though official statistics suggest the country is experiencing its seventh wave, it would be more accurate to say that it’s on a continual plateau as cases are underreported and community transmission remains high on the back of virtually all containment measures being abandoned.
According to an April estimate by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, only 7% of COVID-19 cases in the US are being officially detected thanks to the prevalence of at-home tests that have no clear way to report results to health officials. If we apply this math to the current 7-day average, the US has about 1.9 million cases per day in reality compared to the nearly 129,000 officially reported.
To give some anecdotal evidence as to how prevalent the virus is, my partner and I were in the US for about a week this summer before testing positive. In more than two years of the pandemic, I have never been sick with COVID-19. It was only when I returned to the US and stuck by existing regulations (or lack thereof) that I got sick.
What’s more, the virus is still circulating even at the highest levels of American society. President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on July 21 with reportedly mild symptoms, marking the second US president to have come down with the virus since it was first detected there. A week later, he apparently was back to health, posting a negative test.
During that week, though, the mainstream American media put a very interesting spin on Biden’s diagnosis. In an opinion column for the Washington Post, Leana S. Wen argued that this is “an opportunity for his administration to demonstrate the success of his leadership on the pandemic and what living with the coronavirus looks like.”
“Biden should use his illness as an opportunity to inform the public that COVID-19 is a manageable disease for almost everyone, so long as they use the tools available to them,” Wen suggests.
But this is complete nonsense. It’s perhaps true for Biden, the president of the United States, that he has access to the best medical care in the world – but that is not the case for the average person. The virus is killing over 2,000 people every week in America and leaving more with lingering often debilitating effects.
Speaking for myself, I was worried about my own diagnosis. I am fortunate enough to be vaccinated and boosted, and my prognosis seemed fine as a 26-year-old with no known underlying conditions. But what was scary was the possibility of something going wrong. I don’t live in the US and therefore don’t have health insurance there, and since I’m 26 that means I’m not insured under my parent’s plan. If I ended up needing medical care, I would face steep challenges in acquiring it – and emergency care would have put me in serious debt.
Now, thankfully my symptoms were very mild and I came out the other end just fine. The same for my partner. But what’s alarming is those older adults or those with pre-existing conditions that don’t have access to adequate medical care. If Biden, 79, was an uninsured, working-class American then chances are that his outlook would be far worse.
Sure, it’s true that Pfizer’s antiviral, Paxlovid, which Biden is touting, may be effective against COVID-19. It might even be free for the time being. But you still need to visit a doctor to prescribe and that costs money. That can start to add up for average people.
Again, to cite Wen, Americans have much to look forward to with COVID-19. “Indeed, this is almost certainly not the only time Biden will get the coronavirus. He, like the rest of us, could contract the virus once a year or more,” she wrote.
Despite the positive message behind these words, this is actually terrifying. Poorer Americans can look forward to an annual threat to their life or well-being, according to this forecast. Only those with the means to do so will be able to avoid the worst effects of the coronavirus, much like literally every other illness prevalent in the United States.
Biden’s encounter with COVID-19 is not a shot of hope, that somehow if a 79-year-old like him can survive a bout of coronavirus then anyone can. On the contrary, it exposes a deep inequality in health care and sheds light on the squalor of the American working class.
Indeed, every metric suggests that health outcomes are getting worse for the average person. Americans’ life expectancy is declining, not only thanks to COVID-19 but so-called deaths of despair, and once-devastating but now-treatable diseases like the bubonic plague are making a comeback in poor neighborhoods. The United States even just discovered its first case of polio in nearly a decade last week in New York, not to mention the ongoing threat of monkeypox.
Public health is objectively failing in the country. Biden becoming the poster boy for Pfizer’s new pill makes no difference.