The ending of the coronavirus US Public Health Emergency is a win for capital – but a loss for marginalised people

A Black family getting coronavirus testing PHE
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On 11 May, the US Department of Health and Human Services will allow the coronavirus (Covid-19) Public Health Emergency (PHE) to expire. In most quarters, the end of the PHE and other measures will be seen as evidence of the triumph over coronavirus. This is also being viewed as confirmation that most pandemic mitigations are unnecessary at this point.

Unfortunately, what is actually happening is that this impending date marks another moment where the eugenicist disregard for disabled and poor people is being ratcheted up.

Coronavirus: the end of the PHE

The PHE is separate from the federal State of Emergency that President Biden ended in April. It comes as the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) made a similar declaration on 5 May. However, one only has to look at some of the policy effects of the PHE ending in the US to see how devastating this will be for the working class, disabled, and colonised communities in the country.

One of the most obviously detrimental consequences of the PHE ending will be the withdrawal of government requirements around healthcare. Likely to be affected are requirements for insurance companies to pay for rapid antigen tests. The end of the PHE will stop broad government subsidisation of coronavirus vaccines and antiviral drugs. Moreover, it will stop the requirement for labs to report test results to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Throughout the pandemic we’ve had problems with knowing the true spread of the virus. This is specifically a problem for vulnerable people who are still “coviding” after mask mandates. They depend on that information to make risk assessments in their daily lives. By getting rid of economic support for testing and reporting, there will be even less data for people to use to keep themselves safe. In addition, it will feed into the false perception that the pandemic is truly over. This in turn will fuel more underreporting of cases and deaths.

Vaccines: exposing economic vulnerability

Turning to vaccines and antivirals, the burden of the changes will be felt the most with people who are already economically vulnerable. Throughout the pandemic it’s been poorer communities, of which disabled people make up a large part, that have produced the greatest number of cases and deaths. These are communities which are often more exposed to the virus through their jobs. Now, however, they will have to pay full price for tests, vaccines, and antivirals if they don’t have insurance. This includes Medicaid and Medicare.

To get an idea about what we’re in store for, we can look to companies like Pfizer. It’s planning on charging at least $110 per dose for its vaccine. Some companies like Moderna are planning on continuing to offer doses for free to uninsured patients. However, we shouldn’t have to depend on corporate charity for continued access to these essential products.

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So, access to specific resources will be hugely affected by the ending of the PHE. However, one of the biggest negative impacts will be that it will create further political justification for the dismantling of local and state coronavirus protections, as well as expanded access to remote services.

The virus is still spreading, unchecked

Many states are already dropping mask mandates in healthcare settings. This will make accessing healthcare increasingly dangerous for disabled people. Healthcare advocacy groups like the People’s CDC are fighting this. However, between Biden ending the state of emergency, the WHO declaration, and the PHE expiration, there is little incentive for hospitals or local governments to heed the warnings of advocacy groups. They will be unwilling to pay the political cost to keep healthcare and other public spaces safe.

The example of masks in healthcare spaces shows how this whole sequence of ‘winding down the pandemic’ while the virus is still spreading unchecked in our communities amounts to a eugenics scheme affecting poor and disabled people first and foremost. Contrary to those who treat this progression as natural and inevitable, we are making a choice that will obviously hurt millions.

Coronavirus should be a turning point

The US government has decided that, in order to ‘get back to normal’, it is acceptable to allow over a thousand deaths per week. It is letting ballooning numbers of people become disabled by coronavirus. Plus, it is ignoring the increased risk for those most often exposed to the virus. It’s the whims of US and other western corporations which want to get back to the ‘good old days’ of 2019 that are driving this winding down of pandemic protections – not science.

They want us to forget about community building. Corporations would prefer we lost the increased access to public space via virtual technology. They want us to forget the expanded access to affordable healthcare though the expansion of Medicaid. And ultimately, corporations want to play down the idea that the constant drive for revenue, profits, and consumption isn’t the only thing that can motivate people.

Resisting the ending of coronavirus protections in the US and abroad means choosing life over profit. It means putting the safety of workers and vulnerable populations before consumptive norms. And it means prioritising community interests over individualism.

We can’t stop political elites from choosing profits over people. However, we can do this in our own lives. We should all wear high-quality masks in public, and avoid spreading coronavirus and other infectious diseases in our communities. It won’t change the system, but it will help build the culture of care we’ll need to change things in the future.

Featured image via Envato Elements – the Canary

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