To the editor:
With all the discussion of “opening up,” turning the corner and flattening the curve, it is time to start thinking about our future.
Scientists and governments around the world are cautioning against a second wave. The New York Times reports a warning by Patrick Harker of the Federal Reserve in Philadelphia. The Associated Press expressed “growing dread over what they say is an all-but-certain” second wave of deaths and infections, and reported a prediction by Spain’s army of two more outbreaks of the coronavirus.
Such fears are not unwarranted. Pandemics of the two infections most similar to the coronavirus — the 1918 flu and the H1N1 flu of 2009 — both experienced a second wave far more virulent than the first after a summer lull.
Other disasters also face us. The hurricane season is just beginning, and we can expect wild fires to begin again in California. We need to start preparing for the future, but not by opening up prematurely.
In the Bronx, the need is urgent and dramatic. According to city health department statistics, on April 10, the Bronx had recorded 1,241 cases. By April 20, the number had grown to 2036 — a growth rate of 64 percent in 10 days.
Even though we have flattened the curve, on May 11, the number of cases in the Bronx was 41,746, and deaths were just under 300 per 100,000 residents, the highest rate per capita in New York City, the epicenter of the virus. These are the essential workers who man the transit system, police, fire department, child care and food delivery services, and they experience rates of poverty worse than what we find in Mississippi.
By far the largest number of deaths have occurred among the elderly and those with compromised health, defined by the health department as those with “diabetes, lung disease, cancer, immunodeficiency, health disease, hypertension, asthma, kidney disease, and gastrointestinal/liver disease.” These residents are disproportionately black and African American, and Latino residents of New York City, accounting for 60 percent of the cases.
Before the pandemic, inadequate housing, pollution, lack of fresh food, and critically, the lack of medical care, contributed to the Bronx experiencing the worst health outcomes in the state. Now the coronavirus has brought with it massive unemployment and loss of health insurance in the middle of a pandemic.
Bronxites worry about losing their homes in August, eating tomorrow, and becoming sick in a second wave and dying from compromised health. The state has a massive budget shortfall and needs a huge infusion of federal funds to meet current obligations. We are running to stay in place.
There is, however, one thing we can do to prepare for the future. We can cut the connection between employment and health insurance by passing the New York Health Act. An increase in taxes fairly distributed in a progressive tax will eliminate insurance company expenses and save the state $3 billion, conservatively estimated.
Businesses will no longer be burdened with the cost of the profit paid to insurance companies, and the administrative headaches associated with evaluating the 55 companies selling insurance in New York. Citizens will no longer fear the loss of employment, eliminating their access to health care, and will benefit from continuity of care to help them cope with and diminish chronic health conditions.
We need to prepare for the second wave, and whatever else Mother Nature brings us, and pass the New York Health Act now.