Grange Notes by Tim Swartz, Grange President (with everyone’s help), April 8, 2020
Talkin’ Covid-19 on April 4th
We had a good presentation and discussion, with about 28 people taking part, via “GoToMeeting”, one of the online meeting platforms, which was supplied by Jeremy Hansen, who also moderated the meeting.
First we had a brief “Executive Session” Grange meeting. Using the GoToMeeting to show Merry’s computer screen, we were able to see Merry’s Treasurer’s report. The takeaway from this report is that we are down on rental income, but are also past the need for snowplowing, and aren’t using heating oil much either, so we can survive for quite a while, based on our cash reserves
We also had a good report from Patty Giavara, who told about her more-than-fulltime job over the past few weeks. Patty, as well as being a Grange member, a CDU member and the Chair of the Friends of the Capital City Grange Hall, is the Assistant Director of VMEC, the VT Manufacturing Extension Center, a company based at VT Tech in Randolph Center, which trains and advises VT manufacturers–you can learn more at VMEC.org. As part of VMEC’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, Patty has been working with VT businesses to expedite the production of medical equipment here, as part of the nationwide effort to build up our inventory of health-care supplies and machines. She has particularly been part of building supply chains for the UVM “Vermontilator”, a novel design for a less-expensive, faster to produce and easier-on-the-lungs ventilator for use with Covid-19 patients. The public unveiling of the Vermontilator took place on Friday, the 3rd, you can read more about it in this UVM post. We all hope that this will fill at least part of the emergency need for ventilators in rapidly filling ICUs; the design has been submitted for emergency certification, so that manufacturing can begin.
Dr. Marvin Malek presented…
…about a 30 minute talk about “The Value of a National Health Care Program in the Face of a Pandemic“, following a brief introduction given by Jeremy. If you want to watch the slides he showed, and listen to the whole presentation and discussion, click this link. You will be taken to a “Registration” page, where you will need to fill out your name and email address–these go only to Jeremy, the organizer. Then click “Register” and you will be taken directly to the recording.
Dr. Malek has been actively advocating for a single-payer, national health care system since 1988, and is a practicing family physician in Ludlow VT. Previously, he was a founding physician in a Barre practice, and part of the staff at Springfield Hospital.
He began with a general description of the Coronavirus which causes the disease, its ability to infect others for many days before symptoms start to be felt, the number of people who can be infected in a short period of time, and the importance of the “social distancing” we are all doing. He showed how much higher the mortality is per infected person, compared to seasonal flu, and discussed groups that are at higher risk. As we know, senior citizens are regarded as especially at risk, but Dr. Malek noted that 38% of hospitalizations are for ages 20-54, so younger folks are certainly not immune.
He then moved on to speak about the failure of the US to initiate substantial testing of patients and their contacts early in the epidemic here, compared to many other countries. He also described the “grossly insufficient provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)” that we’ve all heard about–saying that thousands of health care workers will die as a result–a sobering statement. He also noted that PPE and ventilators are being treated in the U.S. as “free market” commodities–meaning that prices are being bid up by competing purchasers, so that they will go to institutions that can pay the most, rather than where they are most needed, in terms of public health. He pointed out the limitations of the “reimbursement of hospitals for COVID treatment” promised by the administration–which will not cover complications of treatment, other infections which co-occur with COVID, etc. Similarly, though the test for COVID will be free, the visit to collect the sample is not necessarily covered.
Dr. Malek then went on to describe the general lack of access to adequate health insurance with our current system, even with “Obama-care” in place. The symptoms of these access problems include: increased numbers of under-insured people, constantly increasing deductibles, and the growing mis-match of people’s assets to the deductibles and copays. Poorer and even middle-class people, in terms of income, do not have the savings to get them through the financial cost of a major illness. People who have health insurance through their jobs are likely to lose their coverage completely if they are laid off or let go–as will happen to many people due to the economic woes of this pandemic. He contrasted this situation with the advantages of a universal, single-payer system, which would de-couple health insurance from employment, reduce co-pays and deductibles. This will in turn encourage people to get routine health-care and check-ups, to help catch illnesses before emergency care is needed. The financing structure can also be designed to more fairly allocate the burden of paying for health insurance.
He then gave us a list of things we can do to help in this stressful situation. This list includes:
- Support health-care workers–including janitorial and maintenance workers, all of whom are very exposed to the virus.
- Support Asian-Americans–who have been blamed because of the attribution of this disease as a “Chinese virus”.
- Support undocumented workers, immigration detainees, prisoners and prison workers, all of whom are at high risk.
- Insist on a robust public health infrastructure.
- Avoid vilification of infected people.
- Support the “Improved Medicare for All” bill, H.R. 1384
- Expect a higher rate of mental health consequences during and after this epidemic.
- Insist that vaccines and medications developed with government funding (as all research is) must be made available without patent limitations and at a reasonable cost.
As far as immediate steps to slow the spread, follow the guidelines:
- Practice social distancing–with no exceptions.
- Wash your hands–incessantly.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth areas
- Wear a mask in public (which will make it less likely to touch your nose and mouth areas, as well as containing your sneezes and coughs).
- Get tested early if you have symptoms.
- If tested positive, do your own “contact tracing”–alerting those you have been around in the previous 14 days.
Questions were asked…
This presentation was followed by questions from participants, written in the “Chat” window, which Jeremy read out and posed to Dr. Malek. These ranged from the dangers of being “intubated” as part of being placed on a ventilator, to the politics of single-payer. Here are some of the specifics:
- One person raised the question of whether people should consider avoiding being put on a ventilator, given the high mortality rates that have been experienced in cases that get that treatment. Dr. Malek said that people with underlying health conditions, or advanced age might want to avoid intubation and mechanical ventilator treatments, and should talk to their doctors about these options and their risk/benefit balance.
- Dr. Malek pointed out that even countries with a national single-payer system, like Spain and Italy have ended up with severe COVID problems–the type of system is not a panacea, having a robust public health infrastructure and good leadership are still vital. He noted that H.R. 1384 also includes increased public health infrastructure.
- I asked a question about the possibility of instituting a national health system in response to the current chaos, given that the European national health systems were largely constructed in the chaos following the 2nd World War. Dr. Malek said that while he can’t predict political change more than anyone else, it is certainly possible–he said that during WW II, few people would have predicted that one of the outcomes would be robust national health systems in most European countries less than a decade later.
- A question about the possible roles for medical students in helping with the crisis led to Dr. Malek emphasizing that any use of med students should not divert PPE from existing staff in hospitals, and should not expose students to unnecessary risk–since they are the future of the profession.
- Following up on the questions, Jeremy introduced Melinda St. Louis, a representative from “Public Citizen”, a non-profit consumer advocacy organization, which is also supporting H.R. 1384, the “Improved Medicare for All” bill. Melinda described their campaign to have towns and cities pass resolutions supporting this bill. Some towns in NH have already done this at Town Meeting; campaigns are underway in some VT towns. After the meeting, she sent me a link to their webpage about this effort.
- I noted that many years ago our Grange created and passed a resolution, which the VT State Grange also supported, calling for a national single-payer health-care system. I suggested we could consider passing another specifically supporting H.R. 1384–I will be interested in feedback from Grange Notes readers, especially those of you who are Grange members!
What’s next for the Grange?
For our next meeting:
Even with a few technical problems, I felt that this “virtual meeting” was a success, and one we can build on. My own expectation is that our next meeting, scheduled for May 2nd will also not be an in-person meeting. Stay Home, Stay Safe is already being extended to the end of April.
Merry & I have been emailing with Carl Etnier about having another “virtual” program-based meeting on May 2nd, as being more useful to the community than trying to have a full, virtual Grange meeting. One idea we are considering strongly is having a gardening advice/discussion program. We know that a) many of our audience are already gardeners, and b) many people are deciding to start raising gardens–vegetables and/or flowers–as a way to get outside and be productive in this time of limbo.
Send us feedback on this idea! We will also be considering best ways to share this meeting and to moderate the discussion. Please send us other suggestions for program ideas; Merry’s & the Grange Notes contact info is above, Carl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For the longer term: The Grange Hall is staying empty, and we can’t yet advertise our wonderful new lower-level for public use. We can afford to stay closed, but we’ll be gradually depleting the savings that we have. In that way, we are in the same boat as other organizations and individuals.
I would like to hear from people who can help us create a marketing campaign that we can use when the very necessary restrictions are loosened.
I would also like to publicize need for volunteers, that people know about. I believe we have a lot of readers of the Grange Notes who want to do community service work–and most have more time on their hands! Let me know if you have a need our readers might be able to fill!
You can also post this sort of info on the Capital City Grange Facebook page! The link for this is also at the top of these Notes.
On behalf of the Grange–Stay Home, Stay Safe and Stay Healthy!