March Madness to Miserable May? by Julianne Malveaux
3/19/2020, 6 p.m.
Basketball fans were looking forward to March Madness, those weeks when the best college teams face off against each other. Madness is replete this March, but it isn’t on the basketball courts.
The dangerous coronavirus, which can be transmitted by a cough, a touch or “direct contact,” is spreading all over the world. It is madness that the United States, which loves to brag about our world superiority, comes up short when it comes to coronavirus testing. Many who have been exposed to the virus have not been tested because test kits are in short supply. In reaction, March Madness has been canceled, as has professional basketball and other sports.
In New York and other locations, public safety prohibits large gatherings, causing St. Patrick’s Day parades to be canceled. Broadway has gone dark because of the prohibition of groups of more than 500 people.
Some colleges and universities have told students to stay home for spring break and offered online classes. Some K-12 schools are closed for weeks because of the virus. And millions of workers have been told they should work from home because of the virus.
All of these factors contribute to the volatile stock market. All of the gains shareholders realized since 2016 have now been wiped out.
Much of this might have been avoided, but for the fact that No.45 initially did not take this virus seriously. When informed of this pandemic, the president’s initial reaction was a wholly vacuous assurance that the virus was “just like the flu” and would go away “when it gets hot.”
Instead, the repercussions from the coronavirus are massive. The stock market tanked during the week when No. 45 first dismissed the virus and then imposed travel restrictions, preventing some peo- ple from traveling to the United States.
The spread of the coronavirus reveals weaknesses in the armor of the country, some describe as “the greatest country” in the world. The coronavirus has been declared a pandemic, a world emergency. The United States is woefully unprepared to manage this emergency. The focus of this administration has been to slash the public sector and provide tax breaks for the wealthy. Public health — or any other kind — has not been a priority. Managing a world pandemic is beyond the capacity of the private sector.
Both Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have given substantive speeches on their approach to coronavirus. Unlike the president, these Democrats are concerned with the children who get school lunch when schools are closed. They are concerned with the contingent workers who won’t get paid when they don’t work, unlike government and other employees who will be paid no matter what.
Both Mr. Biden and Sen. Sanders talked about the weakness in our public health system and the ways that hospitals will be burdened if this virus gets worse. Yet No. 45 addressed this matter with a pithy 11-minute speech that was full of outright lies and misinformation.
When No. 45 campaigned four years ago, he said he’d fix infrastructure, which is a bipartisan issue. As soon as he entered the Oval Office, the infrastructure plan was forgotten. A strong and resilient public health system should be part of our infrastructure. That sector has been ignored by an administration that would rather feather the nests of billionaires than ensure that everyone who has been exposed to the coronavirus can be tested.
The National Society of Civil Engineers issues a report card on our nation’s infrastructure every two or three years. The most recent report card from 2017, gives us a D+ grade on our infrastructure, our highways and bridges, public buildings and waterways and more. We get a D+ and yet some brag about our “greatness.”
Once we were a world leader, but now we are a laughingstock, especially when our country has abdicated from leadership, blaming the pandemic on China and Europe. Anyone who understands globalization knows that our countries are intertwined and there are no borders strong enough to eliminate disease.
Will March Madness turn into Adversity April and Miserable May? Will the Congress pass measures that will ameliorate the effects of this virus on our health and on our economy?
Candidates Mr. Biden and Sen. Sanders have offered ideas to minimize the impact of the coronavirus. Is anybody paying attention?
The writer is an economist, author and educator.