By C.C. Campbell-Rock
As the coronavirus pandemic courses through America, thousands of United States citizens are being sacrificed on the altar of the U.S. economy. The elderly, the incarcerated, and low-wage workers on the front lines of America’s economic engine have been left to the ravages of a viral infection that has claimed over 76,000 lives to date.
Veterans in nursing homes, elderly people who need assistance, the working poor, and incarcerated men and women, are most at risk of dying from a coronavirus infection.
When Trump toured the Hanes facilities, mandated under the Defense Production Act to make face masks, without a mask and to the James Bond theme music, “Live & Let Die,” it became clear that the impeding deaths of thousands of Americans are being viewed by Trump as casualties in the war to reopen the country. Donald Trump justified the mounting death rate, by saying, “people will die,” but the economy must be reopened.
Low-wage workers now must choose between getting sick and possibly dying or losing their unemployment benefits if they refuse to return to an infected workplace. For example, despite major coronavirus outbreaks in meat-packing plants, Donald Trump last week signed an executive order to force meat-packing plants to stay open. His order also protected plant owners from liability. In other words, infected employees or the families of workers who died from the coronavirus can’t sue the businesses. As such, all front-line workers must return to work, without being testing or assurance that the workplace is clear of viral infections.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, Trump has refused to implement a rigorous national testing program or provide enough test kits to states and cities contain the virus, nor has he given the states and municipalities enough financial assistance to do widespread testing and contact tracing. Early on, Trump refused to supply much needed personal protection equipment and ventilators.
When asked in April if he would support ramped-up testing, Trump said, “We want to have it and we’re going to see if we have it. Do you need it? No. Is it a nice thing to do? Yes. We’re talking about 325 million people. And that’s not going to happen, as you can imagine, and it would never happen with anyone else either.”
But when Trump last week learned that his personal valet had tested positive for the coronavirus, news reporters said he was ‘lava level mad,’ and that both Trump and Mike Pence will now be tested daily.
Nursing homes are ‘ground zero’ for coronavirus outbreaks. COVID-19 is responsible for at least 16,000 deaths in U.S. nursing homes, USA Today reported on May 1. On May 7, The Louisiana Department of Health website reported a total of 709 COVID-19 deaths among residents of nursing homes, and 75 COVID-19 deaths in other adult residential facilities.
Louisiana also made national news recently as the Voices of the Experienced (VOTE) sounded the alarm about the coronavirus outbreak at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel. VOTE is a coalition of formerly incarcerated people and prison reform supporters.
“Department of Corrections spokesman Ken Pastorick said 39 women fell ill with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, so the rest of the women housed at Hunt — 155 who did not have symptoms — were also tested. Of those who did not have symptoms, 117 were infected. 41 women’s prison staffers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 at Hunt and at the Jetson Center for Youth,” the Associated Press reported.
As of May 7, 345 prisoners have tested positive in the state’s eight prisons. Of that amount, 126 were asymptomatic. Thus far, 123 staffers have the coronavirus, according to the Department of Corrections website.
VOTE sent two letters to Governor John Bel Edwards with demands for an Emergency Order to address COVID-19 in jails and prison and an Independent Emergency Task Force with the authority to access, inspect, and investigate jail and prison facilities.
The prison rights organization asked Governor Edwards to issue an Emergency Order because the state’s Department of Corrections contingency plan is inadequate for addressing the pandemic.
“Dr. Michael Puisis, an internist with 35 years of correctional medicine experience, believes a possible lack of hospital beds—both at the prison facility itself, but also in the rural part of the state where it is located places “inmates in a dire predicament.”
“Moreover, the contingency plan says nothing of the plans in place for people and staff at over 100 detention facilities in Louisiana, nor about their local medical facilities, channels of communication with families, transportation of people, releases that would ease systemic resource strain, releases that would save lives, social distancing, protective gear, hygienic supplies, staffing shortages, and palliative care procedures.”
VOTE offered the following suggestions to effectively eradicate COVID-19 in the state’s prisons and detention facilities:
- Grant 180-days Good Time to allow everyone within 6 months of going home to get home;
- Issue medical parole for everyone with respiratory conditions, anyone who is immunocompromised, and anyone over 60 years old
- Provide masks and gloves to all staff and incarcerated people who remain; and
- Create a jail and prison COVID-19 oversight commission under the Office of Public Health and CDC, with the power to interview sick people, enforce basic medical standards, and ensure families have a right to know about the health of their loved ones.
- Reject any inmate transfers to state prison from parish prisons;
- Release from custody any parole-eligible inmate or within 180 days of their parole-eligibility date, as there are an estimated 4,000+ inmates who are parole eligible in state prisons;
- Release from custody inmates who fit the at-risk demographics, including older inmates (more than 23% of state prisoners are 50+ years old), and infirm inmates, particularly those with respiratory health issues;
- Release from custody inmates incarcerated for low-level, non-violent offenses, including all misdemeanors and municipal offenses.
“Additionally, we believe the governor should order the National Guard to erect an Open Air Treatment
Facility, which would provide enhanced ventilation, fresh air, and additional room to isolate infected
persons in line with best practices. As these inmates are cleared (infection free, immune, recovered) they can be moved into home monitoring or released,” VOTE Executive Director Norris Henderson wrote.
In his rush to reopen the economy, Donald Trump Sr. has overlooked the reality on the ground, that the U.S. economy will not bounce back without consumers who are confident that the will not get sick while shopping, without workers who are confident that they will not get coronavirus at work, without people with discretionary income, and without containment of the coronavirus, which can only happen with wide-scale testing and contact tracing.
Trump seems oblivious to the images of refrigerated trucks containing the bodies of Americans killed by the coronavirus. He is calling front line workers “warriors” in a war against an “invisible enemy.” If that’s true, this Commander-in-Chief is sending his troops into battle unarmed. Nothing but death can come to defenseless troops.
Some states are rushing headlong into reopening, throwing caution to the wind, and without adhering to federal guidelines because Trump, himself, is not mandating compliance with his own administration’s safe reopening plan.
Louisiana’s Department of Health reported 31,600 coronavirus cases and 2,213 deaths as of May 10th.
Louisiana’s stay at home order expires on May 15, but Governor John Bel Edwards is proceeding with caution. Edwards said recently that he will determine if the state will go forward with a phased-in reopening on May 11. Also, several parishes, including Orleans Parish has implemented widespread mobile and walk up testing for residents, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic.
As of May 10, Jefferson Parish had 6679 confirmed cases and 396 deaths. New Orleans had 6,674 reported cases and 468 coronavirus deaths. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell says she will not be pressured to reopen the city. “The data is going to drive the date to reopen.”
WALK-UP COVID-19 TESTING
May 11-May 13 8am-3pm
Orleans & Claiborne
May 14-May 15 8am-3pm
Cut Off Recreation Center
6600 Belgrade St.
New Orleans, LA 70131
May 18-May 20 8am-3pm Sanchez Multi-Service Center
1616 Caffin Ave.
New Orleans, LA New Orleans, LA 70117
May 21-May 22 8am 3pm Next Generation of Original Morning Star F.G.B.C.
3536 St Ferdinand St
New Orleans, Louisiana 70126
May 26-May 29 8am-3pm
Franklin Ave. Baptist Church
8282 I-10 Service Rd
New Orleans, LA 70126
June 1-June 3 8am-3pm
3191 Alex Kornman Blvd
Harvey, LA 70058