The U.S. is experiencing many signs of hope as the pandemic seems to relax its grip on the nation and the “old normal” becomes more visible. It is important, though, to consider and analyze the pandemic in light of its global effect. Certainly this can be analyzed in terms of health disparities across different socioeconomic lines, vaccine distribution plans, or disproportionate infection rates. However, merely the consideration of the wider and more complicated outcomes of the pandemic seems to be an unfamiliar discussion for many Americans and thus warrants some attention. For instance, although all American adults are on track to have the opportunity to be vaccinated, virus cases in other countries are enough to constitute a surge.
On April 21, the W.H.O. reported a new weekly record in newly diagnosed COVID cases. In Brazil, the daily total of deaths just recently passed the grim milestone of 4,000 deaths per day. This comes with severe overcrowding and a shortage of medical equipment in hospitals, putting a large strain on the country’s resources which are already subject to tarnishing from the country’s president. As AP News writes, as of April 9, “COVID-19 patients are using more than 90% of beds in intensive care unit in most Brazilian states, though figures have been stable since the past week. Still, hundreds are dying as they wait for care and basic supplies such as oxygen and sedatives are running out in several states.” This should stand as a reminder that, although grim hospital scenes like this one are fading from the American public eye, they are very much prevalent on the global scale.
India is another example. With a shortage of resources, the painful effects of the decreasing hospital capacity are very evident. As The New York Times wrote on April 24, “On Saturday, officials reported nearly 350,000 new infections, and the deaths continued to rise. At one hospital in New Delhi, the capital, doctors said 20 patients in a critical care unit had died after oxygen pressure dropped. The doctors blamed the deaths on the city’s acute oxygen shortage.” Once again, as scenes or news like this are becoming rarer in the U.S., the world is very much not “out of the woods” when it comes to combating COVID-19. One can argue that worldwide cases are surging, with hospitals currently experiencing some of the worst days of the pandemic.
Certainly, it is important to recognize this as a public health issue, as people are still at risk of death. However, this can also be analyzed in light of social justice. The fact that the U.S. is a powerful country that is often capable of providing assistance to other countries in times of crisis means that it does have a role in controlling the pandemic around the world. It is the U.S.’s ethical responsibility to be empathetic and to wait to consider the pandemic to be “over” until its effects have subsided around the world.
This can also be considered a question of marginalization. Other countries do not have access to the vaccines that we do, and a choice like this one does not lie in the hands of the people. Of course, it is important and natural to care for one another and for our own home before we can properly attend to others, following the analogy of an oxygen mask on an airplane. However, we should shift the frame of our discussion of the pandemic to consider all of humankind, regardless of location. After all, this virus has touched every corner of the globe and left in its wake similar effects, such as high death rates and exposure of underlying systems of oppression, and everyone has an equal right to receive care and rest from this difficult year.
I have lots of hope for our country, and I hesitate to include the phrase “American arrogance” in this discussion. It is a very natural behavior to focus on what is in front of us, count our blessings each day, and to rapidly work to ensure the well-being of those immediately surrounding us. Nevertheless, our country’s values of freedom and justice should be extended to all of those our eyes do not see and applied to the world scale, as many places are relying on us at this time.