May 19, 2022
By: Kathleen Stoll
Two years ago, the United States confirmed its first COVID-19 case. On May 16, we reached the tragic milestone marking 1 million U.S. COVID-19 deaths.
Sadly, our nation’s health system inequities have been painfully exposed by COVID-19. Take note West Virginia: The virus has been more lethal in rural U.S. communities than in urban ones. COVID-19 death rates in poorer counties were nearly double those in wealthier counties; during the winter of 2020-21, 4 1/2 times as many people in poorer counties died.
So what does a gal do? I find it frustrating that official COVID-19 updates are often as clear as mud. But I understand that scientists are still learning about COVID-19’s ability to mutate into new variants, the nature of new variants and how long immunity lasts. The experts constantly reevaluate new data and update predictions. It is like trying to predict rain and the right week to cut hay on my farm. COVID-19 is a child of Mother Nature and is, thus, unpredictable.
There is one clear and critical message: Any caring, decent human being must remember that COVID-19 is very dangerous for older people and people with health or immune issues. Any return to “normal” must be tempered with concern and respect for those who remain extremely vulnerable to severe symptoms of COVID-19.
This past week, the federal government extended the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency through October. This doesn’t signal that our nation is failing to make progress in the COVID- 19 fight. Rather, the extension allows the fight to continue with extra federal funding that supports state COVID-19 response efforts, including enhanced funding for state Medicaid programs — critical for West Virginia. The Biden administration could have ended the emergency and declared victory for political purposes. Instead, it took the wiser route of examining the latest data and heeding the urgent requests of our nation’s hospitals and health providers to extend the emergency.
Predicting the future of COVID-19 is hard, and we all want to declare our freedom from the virus this summer. The message of the emergency extension is that none of us is free to completely let our guard down. We must remember that cases are again increasing and the person in the store check-out line with us might be COVID-19 vulnerable.
I applaud the continuation of the national emergency. West Virginia must continue to push folks to get the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots so that all of us face less risk. Masks must not be totally abandoned in indoor spaces. Congress must continue funding COVID-19 research and services.
And I hope West Virginians will be reenergized to demand that our politicians support equitable, universal health care for all Americans.
Kathleen Stoll is policy director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (wvahc.org) and operates a policy and economic consulting business, Kat Consulting.