The president of the United States, Donald Trump, recently declared about the new coronavirus: “no, I am not responsible at all”, after which he took the opportunity to blame the whole world for his delayed and terrible response to the pandemic: China , Obama and Democrats. Meanwhile, Trump is pushing a financial package with taxpayer money that will redistribute wealth… but among the rich. Hundreds of thousands of people have already lost their jobs and many millions more are forecast. At the time of this writing, the scale of the pandemic in the United States is unknown as testing for the coronavirus has been severely delayed. More than 10,000 people in the country have been infected, there have already been more than 150 dead and there are only 8 recovered (according to the website ncov2019.live developed by Avi Schiffman, a 17-year-old high school student from Seattle).
The true number of infections, when the tests begin to get serious, will be much higher.
Many state and local governments have strayed from the failed path taken by Trump and are implementing measures unprecedented in recent memory. About 30 state governments have enacted the National Guard and passed laws or resolutions involving emergency funds, worker protections, medical coverage, and epidemiological efforts such as controls, isolation, and quarantine. On Monday, San Francisco and six surrounding counties issued the strictest public health order in the country, requiring the region's seven million people to "take refuge where they are." A summary of the order, effective until April 7 but which may be extended, reads: “Vulnerable populations must stay home. Everyone else is required to stay home except to find food, care for a relative or friend, receive necessary medical care or attend essential work.
Other states are ordering bars, restaurants, casinos, and similar businesses to close, or have indicated limiting their food service to pickup or delivery only. The National Association of Restaurants warned that "forecasts reveal that the industry will suffer a loss of at least 225,000 million dollars and will be forced to eliminate between five and seven million jobs in the next three months." This also affects those who depend on restaurants, such as food service providers, food delivery companies, and local governments who depend on sales tax revenue. In any case, the most impacted are the workers who are abruptly fired.
Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of the restaurant Opportunities Centers United food union, sheltered at her home in Berkeley, California, said Wednesday in an interview with Democracy Now!: “I think we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. On Monday at 9:30 in the morning we launched an aid fund for these workers. Almost 15,000 workers requested help in a period of little more than 24 hours ”.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed the "Families First" Coronavirus Response Act, which Trump swiftly signed into law. The law includes a provision for paid sick leave that covers less than 20% of the workforce. Excluded from the provision are companies with more than 500 employees and those with fewer than 50, denying coverage to tens of millions of workers.
Saru Jayaraman highlighted the particular situation of workers in the gastronomic sector: “There are serious problems of structural inequalities long before this crisis. In particular, this industry, unlike almost all others, allows workers to earn a wage below the minimum, on the grounds that they receive tips. This forces them to live on tips. That's a literal legacy of slavery and a terrible source of sexual harassment for a largely female workforce of waitresses, baristas, and potholes. Now, let's think about that workforce when a layoff is received. First of all, there have been very few tips in the last few weeks leading up to the closings. Already in these conditions, the workforce was in difficulty. With the layoff, these workers have literally been living, as I say, "tip to mouth." They received tips on Friday. They were fired at the end of the week. They cannot feed their children on Monday ”.
We won't see any of the laid-off workers invited to the White House, where Donald Trump welcomes executives from different industries before the cameras. Last Tuesday, Trump spoke with the top CEOs of the fast food industry. Soon after, former Labor Minister Robert Reich tweeted: “McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Subway. None of them give their workers paid sick leave. They should be required to have a sign on the door that says: 'Since we don't give them paid sick leave, our workers could be sick when they see it.'
Congress is now accelerating the approval of another financial stimulus package, which is estimated to exceed $ 1.5 trillion. The package includes direct payments to many Americans (the details of who would qualify are unclear) and massive bailouts for the airline, cruise and fracking industry. Trump also said Wednesday that he will invoke the Defense Production Act, which gives him significant semi-autocratic powers, allowing him to direct entire sections of the economy.
Writer Naomi Klein argues that any taxpayer-funded bailout should be invested in a New Dealecology, while Robert Reich wrote on Twitter: “No industry - not airlines, not hotels, not cruise ships - should be rescued. They can keep borrowing at very low rates, using their assets as collateral. Taxpayers' money should be used to rescue people, not corporations. ”
Donald Trump's ignorance and criminal negligence has greatly exacerbated the contagion of Covid-19: his denial of science, which among other disasters led him to dissolve the pandemic response team in 2018, added to his ultra-nationalism and suxenophobia, which led to rejecting the coronavirus test verified by the World Health Organization, caused the country to miss a critical response time.
The president has had an utterly negligent response to the pandemic. It is up to all of us to flatten the curve and limit the damage that Trump is inflicting.
By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan for Democracy Now!
Spanish translation of the English text: Inés Coira.