On October 2, 2020, we all woke up to the news that the President of the United States had tested positive for COVID-19. Overnight news outlets and social media blew up with questions about the accuracy of the news and conspiracy theories about the truth of the president’s diagnosis.
But this is not the American story we need to focus on.
Donald Trump is being treated by world-class physicians and he and his family are in quarantine at the White House. They are not faced with living in tight quarters with fears of infecting their multi-generational family. They are not quarantined in a stuffy attic, or a poorly ventilated basement.
The President is likely not worried about whether or not his Covid test was free or if he can afford to pay for his treatment. He is not worried about a lost paycheck, the ability to feed his family, or losing his home.
The Trump family is not at higher risk from the disease because of their race, ethnicity, or the zip code in which they were born.
This is the American Story.
It is a story that differs greatly from person to person based on their race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, and sexual orientation. It is a story in which the American Indian/Alaska Native communities are challenged with access to care, crowded living situations and the availability of adequate healthcare. It is a story of communities of color who are dying from COVID at 2.3 times the rate of white people – one in which Latinx people are hospitalized with COVID-19 at 4 times the rate of whites. It is a story of those from the LGBTQ community who face widespread disparities and challenges accessing appropriate care.
In a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, physicians Seth Berkowitz, Crystal Wiley Cené and Avik Chatterjee noted: “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the magnitude of U.S. health inequities — which the World Health Organization defines as ‘avoidable, unfair, or remediable differences’ in health. It has also highlighted structural racism — institutions, practices, mores, and policies that differentially allocate resources and opportunities so as to increase inequity among racial groups.”
COVID-19 is highlighting the many structural inequities impacting housing, job security, education, access to care, and overall health and wellbeing. Food insecurity, behavioral health disparities, and underlying medical conditions all compound the issue.
We need to change the narrative.
We need to stop putting our time and energy – our taxpayer dollars, our media coverage – on arguing over whose theory is right. We need to rely on our scientists, medical care providers, and public health experts. We need to cover the American Story which examines the rampant inequities many are facing, and address the American crisis by helping those who are struggling most.
We need to rethink our response to the pandemic by aligning public health and policy, providing adequate funding to state and local governments, and creating large scale reform to address unemployment and food insecurities.
We need a regionally-informed national testing strategy that includes no-cost and accessible COVID-19 testing and treatment for all.
We need to leverage lessons learned from mass testing efforts over the past couple of months to inform a national COVID-19 vaccination strategy that is focused, targeted, equitable, and accessible.
America has reached the grim milestone of more than 7.5 million Americans infected and nearly 215,000 deaths from COVID-19. It didn’t have to be this way. We have the tools to combat this disease – including the scientific knowledge that tells us that simple things like wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing can save lives.
America has always risen to the challenge, whether it be in response to a pandemic, natural disaster or economic downturn. We will face this challenge and emerge stronger, but we are only as strong as our weakest link. Let’s make sure ALL Americans, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or income level, have access to the knowledge, life-saving tests, treatments and vaccines to stay healthy and strong.