Opinion: U.S. Pandemic Could Be Worst In World Because Of Country’s Structural Inequality

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Written by Ann Brown
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Opinion: The U.S. pandemic could be the worst in the world because of the country’s structural inequality: “This is a white-collar quarantine.” Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash

Within a little more than six weeks, the number of U.S. coronavirus cases has surpassed that of China. Why is this so? Most likely due to structural inequality in the U.S., Harvard Gazette staff writer Alvin Powell wrote in an opinion piece.

The evidence seems to be there. Recently, a Harvard public health professor warned that the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. could rank among the world’s worst unless something is done to ease the health and economic impacts on America’s poor.

Systematic inequality in the U.S. will only make it harder for the country to control the pandemic, predicted Mary Bassett, former health commissioner of New York City and professor of the practice of health and human rights at Harvard.

There are several reasons why the situation could become more dire in the U.S. One is that the U.S. has the world’s largest prison population, often living in densely crowded conditions. Also, the country’s low-income population has few opportunities for quality health care. Then there’s the social safety net that is “much thinner and more porous than those in other Western democracies, which may leave many workers having to choose between letting their families go hungry or going to work sick,” Powell wrote.

“The U.S. has particular vulnerabilities that make it possible we will have the worst coronavirus epidemic of all,” said Bassett, who directs the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “These are not issues that are unsolvable, but they do require resources.”

Additionally, Black and brown people are more likely to continue to work as they can not afford to self-quarantine. This leaves them more exposed to the virus than whites. 

“This is a white-collar quarantine,” said Howard Barbanel, a Miami-based entrepreneur who owns a wine company, in a The New York Times interview. “Average working people are bagging and delivering goods, driving trucks, and working for the local government.”

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 70: Jamarlin Martin Jamarlin goes solo to discuss the COVID-19 crisis. He talks about the failed leadership of Trump, Andrew Cuomo, CDC Director Robert Redfield, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and New York Mayor de Blasio.

In the next few weeks, the pandemic will only get worse, said Paul Biddinger, associate professor of emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“If you ask me what I’m most concerned about, it’s what’s still coming,” Biddinger said. “We are absolutely anticipating a large wave of patients, as we’ve seen elsewhere in the world and just barely to our south in New York City — they’re a week or two ahead of us — what they’re experiencing right now.”