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Coronavirus time bomb: America’s uninsured and brutal work culture

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Like many Americans, bartender Danjale Williams is worried about the growing threat of the novel coronavirus.

What makes the 22-year-old in Washington even more frightened: The thought of medical bills she just can’t afford, as one of almost 27.5 million people in the United States who don’t have health insurance.

“I definitely would second guess before going to the doctor, because the doctor’s bill is crazy,” she said. “If it did come down to that, I don’t have enough savings to keep me healthy.”

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As the virus begins spreading in the west of the country, where the first death was reported Saturday, public health experts warned the US has several characteristics unique among wealthy nations that make it vulnerable.

These include a large and growing population without medical insurance, the 11 million or so undocumented migrants afraid to come into contact with authorities, and a culture of “powering through” when sick for fear of losing one’s job.

“These are all things that can perpetuate the spread of a virus,” said Brandon Brown, an epidemiologist at UC Riverside.

The number of Americans without health insurance began falling from a high of 46.7 million in 2010 following the passage of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), but has risen again over the past two years.

The current figure is about 8.5 percent of the population.

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Public health experts often worry about the destructive potential of a pandemic in poorer parts of the world like sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.

These poverty-plagued regions have hospitals that are ill-equipped to stop the spread of infectious diseases, or to adequately care for patients needing breathing assistance, which the most severe cases of COVID-19 require.

By contrast, the US has some of the world’s best hospitals and medical staff, but those not lucky enough to have good insurance through their employer, and not poor enough to qualify for state insurance, often opt out of the system entirely.

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A routine doctor’s visit can run into hundreds of dollars for those without coverage.

“I think that it’s possible if this has the sustained spread, that might highlight some of those health care disparities that we already know about and are trying to work on, but haven’t figured out a way to solve,” said Brian Garibaldi, the medical director of Johns Hopkins Hospital’s biocontainment unit.

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That’s not to say uninsured people have no recourse if they fall seriously ill.

US law requires that people who are truly sick get the care they need, regardless of ability to pay.

Abigail Hansmeyer, a Minnesota resident who along with her husband is uninsured, said that if she did fall ill, “we may seek out the emergency room for treatment.”

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But being treated doesn’t mean the visit was free and the uninsured can be lumped with huge bills after.

“So we have to very carefully consider costs in every situation,” the 29-year-old said.

One of the key messages the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put out about the coronavirus is to stay home if you have mild respiratory symptoms, except to go to the doctor once you have called in and if they think you need to.

“But a lot of people, depending on their jobs, their position and their privilege, are not able to do that,” said Brown.

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The US is alone among advanced countries in not offering any federally mandated paid sick leave.

Though private companies offer an average of eight days per year, only 30 percent of the lowest paid workers are able to earn sick days, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

For many of these people, missing even a day’s work can make a painful financial dent.

An October 2019 nationwide survey of 2,800 workers by the accounting firm Robert Half found that 57 percent sometimes go to work while sick and 33 percent always go when sick.

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As the global death toll from the virus approaches 3,000 and the US braces for a wider outbreak, the race is on to develop vaccines and treatments.

Current timeline estimates for the leading vaccine candidate are 12-18 months, but will it be affordable for all? That question was put to Health Secretary Alex Azar in Congress last week.

His response: “We would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest.”

Ed Silverman, a columnist for industry news site Pharmalot, panned the comment as “outrageous.”

“No one said profits are verboten,” he wrote. “But should we let some Americans who may contract the coronavirus die because the price is out of reach?”

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WATCH: NYC cop filmed pulling down Black protester’s mask so he can pepper spray him in the face

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In a video posted to Twitter by Anju J. Rupchandani, a man she claimed was her nephew had his protective COVID-19 mask pulled down by a New York City police officer so that he could spray him in the face at close range with pepper spray.

In the video, the  young man can be seen with his hands in the air and making no move towards the white officer who suddenly reaches out to yank down the mask and blast him with the noxious spray.

As Rupchandani wrote, "I am heartbroken and disgusted to see one of my family members a young black man w/his hands up peacefully protesting and an NYPD officer pulls down his mask and pepper sprays him.

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Atlanta mayor levels Trump for comments taunting George Floyd protesters: He’s ‘making it worse’

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Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday morning after yet another night of protests rocked her city, the mayor of Atlanta bluntly told Donald Trump to keep his mouth shut about the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and the protests that have followed.

Speaking with host Jake Tapper, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was asked about comments the president has been making on Twitter about the protestors which have included threats of using "vicious dogs" and "ominous weapons."

"President Trump has been tweeting about the violent protests across the country. he vowed to step in and use, quote, 'the unlimited power of our military' and he suggested local officials should, quote, 'get tough and fight.' He's also talked about threatening 'the most vicious dogs and most ominous weapons I have ever seen' to use against protesters in Washington, D.C.," host Tapper began. "What do you make of the way the president has handled this crisis?"

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Watch: This is what it looks like when the response to protests against police violence is… more police violence

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Driving SUVs into demonstrators. Firing paint-ball rounds at people on their own front porch. Pushing an elderly man to the ground. These were just a few of the incidents witnessed as a militarized nation faced off against its own people on Saturday.

Police driving their SUV cruisers into protesters in Brooklyn, New York.

National Guard and local officers firing paint gun rounds at people standing on their own front porch in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Massive armored S.W.A.T. vehicles and lines of riot police in Columbia, South Carolina and elsewhere.

Police units firing rubber bullets and tear gas at kneeling, non-violent demonstrators in Dallas, Texas.

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