You might assume that a White House and Congress controlled by Democrats would find it easy to devote billions of dollars to fight a pandemic that is still causing over 1,000 deaths a day; may have already left millions suffering with long Covid; and continues to threaten millions more who are vulnerable because they are not able to get vaccinated or mount protective immunity. But in a stunning display of partisan “horse-trading,” in Congress’ recent $1.5 trillion omnibus bill, zero dollars were allocated to address the ongoing pandemic.
You might assume that a White House and Congress controlled by Democrats would find it easy to devote billions of dollars to fight a pandemic.
To some people, that might not seem like such a big deal. Those who know the government can run on a deficit may assume that possibility will come into play or that some budget wonk will find funding from somewhere else. That is not the case.
What follows is a timeline of what the conscious indifference from Democrats bolstered by the callousness of Republicans will most likely mean for Americans.
Testing capacity will surely decline precipitously. Every single state has some sort of free testing capacity set up, including makeshift drive-thru testing in parking lots of fire stations and community centers and walk-up clinics that don’t require proof of insurance. That capacity ending will leave people scrambling to find an appointment at an urgent care center or a doctor’s office, or, worse yet, they'll flood emergency rooms for a test that could be performed elsewhere.
Throughout the pandemic, Americans have really only had one safety net: free Covid-19 tests or treatments. This means a PCR test or one of the new antiviral pills that President Joe Biden touted during his recent State of the Union address are free of charge, no questions asked.
But without more funding, these tests and treatments will be limited to those with insurance, which will likely mean copays and out-of-pocket costs. That will leave millions facing the prospect of spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars for lifesaving tests and treatments.
What will happen next? The answer to that is simple: Fewer people will get tested. The people who get tested less will likely include essential workers, who are at tremendous risk for illness during an inevitable future surge. That means there will be more preventable deaths and an increased loss of productivity. When almost every inch of the country has lifted restrictions such as mask or vaccine requirements, testing is the one thing that could help prevent a superspreader event.
Funding for monoclonal antibodies will dry up. Yes, one of the few treatments that have the backing of science and have been celebrated by the GOP, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the anti-vaccine population alike will only be available to those who can afford it.
If you are reading this and think the people who can afford it might include you, double check your insurance coverage because specialty drugs such as monoclonals often involve hospital-based clinics that come at an added cost even for the best-insured. The monoclonal Evusheld — which is given to the millions of Americans who are undergoing cancer treatments or who have had a transplant or who have a number of other conditions that make vaccines less effective — is one of the few available for prevention of infection. Cutting off access to such treatments when most experts predict a possible summer surge is the exact opposite of a rational pandemic plan.
Sending children to school hungry while they struggle with mental health issues is the epitome of cruelty.
Millions of children will lose access to free and reduced-price meals at school. The Department of Agriculture estimated that the average reimbursement a school gets for a meal served will fall from $4.56 to $2.91, The Washington Post reported. This comes at a time when the raw materials necessary to make and supply lunches are at record-high costs due to inflation and supply chain issues.
Republican opponents to the funding extension claim that schools have reopened and are operating under conditions prior to the pandemic, but this does not take into account that wage growth has not kept up with inflation and that many families are underwater financially. They’re underwater in part because schools were virtual for much of the past two years, creating extra child care costs and causing more parents to leave the workforce to facilitate home-based education. Sending children to school hungry this summer and fall while they struggle with what a collection of pediatrician groups call “soaring rates of mental health challenges,” with the grief of being orphaned and with the stress of a potential surge is the epitome of cruelty.
Outrage over the lack of funds should be expressed far and wide, by those for and against masks, vaccines or science. Given the way many Americans harshly rebuked the Trump administration when it knowingly ignored pandemic mitigating recommendations from the previous administration and ignored incoming intelligence at the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, we seem doomed to repeat the same mistakes when funding now could secure a return to normal.