[Opinion] Capitalism and Coronavirus: Is Capitalism Gatekeeping Testing?

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread throughout the US without any signs of slowing down. Tests for COVID-19 are in short supply across the country, and many health care workers and sick people are unable to receive diagnoses.

However, professional athletes, celebrities, and the rich have been able to test for COVID-19 and receive results quicker than those on the frontlines battling the pandemic. Some of these popular personalities have their private doctors secure tests for them through private labs, despite not meeting the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for receiving the test.

In the N.B.A., eight entire teams have been tested for COVID-19. On Mar. 11, the state of Oklahoma used 60 percent of its testing capacity on N.B.A. players and team staff. Out of the 58 tests conducted, only one came back positive, according to Business Insider.

After the Brooklyn Nets were tested, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City tweeted, “with all due respect, an entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested.” De Blasio emphasized that “tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick.”

In areas of the US where the virus has taken longer to appear, there may still be tests available. In states such as California, New York, and Washington, however, demand for tests is high, and people with mild symptoms are often sent home without a diagnosis and told to self-quarantine. Health care workers, who are at a high risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, have faced considerable challenges in getting tested.

Dr. Uché Blackstock, an urgent care doctor in Brooklyn, NY expressed on Twitter that COVID-19 has exposed our nation’s inequities. “It’s upsetting for me to 1) have to ration out #COVID19 testing to my patients, then 2) have to wait 5-7 days for the results, when celebrities are getting tested with ease and quick turnaround times,” she wrote.

Lack of testing access to the nation’s poor and working class has sparked a new national controversy. Why should prominent figures be allowed to cut in line for testing?

This controversy over the barrier for testing has reached as far as the White House. On Mar. 18, President Donald J. Trump was asked at a news conference whether or not “the well-connected go to the front of the line.” After stumbling through his response, Trump finally said, “No, I wouldn’t say so, but perhaps that’s been the story of life. That does happen on occasion.”

However, this does not just happen on occasion. It’s been like this throughout human history.

The rich generally fare better during pandemics than their poorer counterparts, who are less healthy on average to begin with. Richard Keller, a professor of medical history and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison told the Washington Post that “the wealthy have often done better than the poor when faced with epidemics and pandemics because they tend to be resilient as a function of having greater resources.”

The rich will flee in their private jets to their rural country homes, with their pantries stocked with food and toiletries. There, they will be able reduce their exposure and get faster treatment with their private concierge physicians. Celebrities have uploaded photos of themselves wearing designer protective masks, while many hospitals have gone through 8 months-worth of masks in mere days, according to the New York Times. 

“What we’re facing right now is unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced in medicine,” Shoa L. Clarke, a cardiology fellow at Stanford University told The Atlantic. “Our motivations should be driven by public health… and for folks who are coming in potentially with COVID-19, it doesn’t matter if they’re a CEO of the big tech company or a homeless person off the street—they need to be appropriately cared for.”

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