"We're Now Knowingly Letting People Die": Responding To The COVID-19 Crisis | WYPR

"We're Now Knowingly Letting People Die": Responding To The COVID-19 Crisis

May 20, 2020

Woman wearing a face mask.
Credit Silvision via Flickr

Around the country, states have eased social distancing restrictions, ended stay-at-home orders and opened up more parts of their economies.

 

Although Maryland remains under a state of emergency, Gov. Larry Hogan allowed retailers, hair salons, manufacturers and places of worship to reopen at 50% of their maximum occupancy last Friday, pointing to the state's decline in hospitalizations as a key statistic in his choice to reopen.

 

Just days later, Maryland announced 1,784 new cases of COVID-19, the highest number of new daily cases since the outbreak began.

Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, said that it is unsafe for states to reopen now. "We have basically come halfway and said 'we're going to do social distancing,' but at this point we're now giving up on it. We're saying we know what needs to be done but we're not doing it."

 

She believes the risks of ending social distancing too soon are enormous. "It's such a tragedy because all those sacrifices made by people have been in vain and we're now knowingly letting people die."

 

African Americans, Latinx people and low-wage workers are at higher risks of both getting sick from coronavirus and of dying from it, according to Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

 

"We have these underlying structural challenges that put people at risk," he said, including unequitable housing, inaccessible healthcare and food insecurity. "These big issues are going to require attention if we're going to be able to avoid this risk in the future."

 

Kerala, a southern state in India, had the first cases of COVID-19 in the country, but has used vigorous contact tracing, long quarantines, and a massive stimulus package to keep coronavirus infections low and recovery rates high.

 

According to Sam Agarwal, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University, one element of Kerala's success has been the government's historic relationship with popular social movements.

 

"The state has been leaning very heavily on its vast network of grassroots movements and volunteers" who have mobilized to make masks, hand sanitizer, deliver groceries and medicine, staffing a mental health hotline, and more, she said.

 

Dr. Leana Wen, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, and Sam Agarwal joined us on this month's Future City to discuss how the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland, the U.S., and other jurisdictions around the world have responded to the crisis.

 

Future City is hosted by Wes Moore and produced by Mark Gunnery.