featured-column / Student Life

Health Experts Say New York Isn’t Ready For Second Wave

Panelists at this year’s Student Empowerment Conference expressed pessimism about New York’s ability to handle another rise in coronavirus cases. 

Dr. Jason Matuszak, president of the New York State Academy of Family Physicians, told moderator Nadine Pratt that one takeaway from the pandemic so far is that “we learned how inadequate an employer-provided healthcare system really is for the average person in New York State,” he said,  “One disruption to that system and the whole thing comes crashing down.”

A majority of young people favor a single-payer healthcare system that guarantees coverage to all Americans, and support has gone up significantly among other age groups since 2019. 

As part of a daylong event sponsored by the New York Public Interest Research Group, Mutuszak spoke alongside Manhattan Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and treasurer on the board of directors of the New York State Nurses Association, Nancy Hagans. The other panels of the day focused on student activism and recent elections.

“We have a healthcare system that doesn’t treat people of limited means very well. Those problems have been there before the virus, the virus just made it much worse,” said Gottfried. 

As data became clearer over the summer, studies showed class and racial disparities in care. “Low income and people of color had insufficient healthcare resources before the pandemic, so they were doubly hit when the pandemic arrived,” Hagans said. She added that hospitals in Manhattan had budgets to charter jets and bring in PPE while hospitals in low income or minority communities couldn’t afford that luxury. 

College students took to the streets in the spring and summer in waves of protests sparked by police killings to also demand justice for racial disparities in coronavirus care. 

With reports of effective vaccines coming soon, Dr. Matuszak said that if New York plans to mandate vaccines, the state would need to ensure equitable vaccination for people of all incomes. 

“The vaccine shouldn’t be a business, it should be considered a right for all Americans,” Hagans said. “If we leave it up to the pharmaceutical industry, we don’t get care to underserved communities.” She added that vaccine distribution shouldn’t mirror the early disparities in coronavirus testing where Americans with more money had access to testing while low income communities severely lacked testing resources. 

As for the rising cases in New York, Hagans said nurses are not ready. “We still don’t have PPE, and we’re still understaffed. We are still being told we can only use one N95 mask per day, if we have another wave, the nurse-patient ratios would be devastating,” explaining that nurses are supposed to be assigned to two patients at most. During the height of the pandemic in New York in the spring, nurses were assigned up to eight patients at once. Hagans said that nurses are still being assigned to up to four patients at once.  

“I don’t know that we’re much better than March or April, there is going to be a lot of death associated with this recent rise despite all of the advancements that we believe we’ve made,” Jason said. 

 

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