On The Front Line Of COVID-19: Doctor Calls For System Change
New York is the area hardest hit by the coronavirus currently in the United States with over 60,000 cases and over 1,000 deaths, ranking it as the sixth highest number of cases in the world. The area in and around New York City has the most cases. Governor Cuomo is scrambling for hospital beds and equipment. The Army Corps of Engineers has been called in to convert convention centers and other large spaces into temporary hospitals. A naval hospital ship is heading up from southern Virginia to provide support. The city is bringing in refrigerated trucks to store dead bodies and China is sending planeloads of medical supplies. We speak with Dr. Mike Pappas, who is working on the front line of this crisis about COVID-19, how health professionals are handling it, how it is exposing the flaws in our healthcare and economic systems and what systems would protect people.
Dr. Mike Pappas is an activist and family medicine physician living and practicing in New York City. He frequently write for Left Voice.org.
Margaret Flowers (MF): This week we interviewed Mike Pappas. He’s an activist and a doctor living and practicing in New York City.
Kevin Zeese (KZ): And he’s practicing in the center of the coronavirus and so he gives us a report on what it’s like dealing with that reality.
MF: Mike talks about how it’s really exposing the flaws in our healthcare and economic systems. This past week the National Labor Relations Board report on the number of new filings for unemployment benefits skyrocketed in an amount that has never been seen before in the United States. In one week, the applications went up to 3.28 million people, an increase of over 3 million applications.
KZ: If you look at comparisons with other years, there’s no comparison. There’s nothing ever been like this before. It was a massive surge and this is just one week, and there’ll be another report coming out this week, which will probably also have very high numbers. People are predicting up to a 30% unemployment rate, which would be higher than it ever was during the depression, and that came from the St. Louis Fed. It’s a pretty wild number and it indicates we are already in a recession, even though it takes a couple of months for the data to come in to prove it. We are already in a recession, and it’s not surprising because everything has stopped economically. People are being forced out of work. People are being forced to stay home. The question is what it will this evolve into.
MF: A lot of that depends on how the federal government responds to this, and we know in the 2008 financial crisis Congress didn’t respond well. The stimulus package and the bailout really helped those who were at the top but didn’t really stop the foreclosures or provide enough in unemployment support. Workers’ rights have been eroding in the United States. Pensions and pay have been stagnant. So, you know, this rescue bill that Congress just passed last week again, it’s not enough and it’s not soon enough.
KZ: It’s just barely enough to keep people from screaming, you know, the twelve hundred dollar, one-time payment is minimal.
MF: And they’re saying it may not come out until May.
KZ: It could take weeks to get to people. And then the unemployment benefits. That was a positive. People will get $600 on top of their usual unemployment benefits per month, and that goes for four months, which is not going to be sufficient. About a quarter of the rescue bill goes to people’s needs. The rest of it goes to business, especially to Big Business and the big business part, which is the largest segment, is tied to the Federal Reserve, and that results in it being essentially a foundation for five trillion dollars of Federal Reserve spending on big business.
MF: Yeah, we should explain that a little bit because the Congressional bill gives 454 billion to big industries, big business, including the defense industry. That’s a whole nother conversation… why they need to be bailed out. But the way that the Federal Reserve operates, they can then use the equivalent of ten times that amount of money to bail out the investor class, basically, and so that’s going to be $4.5 trillion… trillion!
KZ: Yes, and so that’s a massive, massive bailout for big business. And already before this even happened the Fed was bailing out Wall Street to stop the stock markets from failing.
MF: And basically pledging to buy any debt that they need to buy.
KZ: Up to six trillion. And so it’s a massive bailout for the investor class and business class. Just enough for the workers.
MF: I would say not enough for the workers.
KZ: Just just enough for the workers not to scream. [laughter] But certainly not enough for the working class to survive. What really struck me about that was the day that we saw that massive increase in unemployment applications—three million applications—was also a record day for the stock market to go up. It was the largest increase since 1933 for the stock market, the same day we had these massive unemployment applications. So it really showed the contradictions in the US economy, where the wealthy seem to benefit when the working class suffers. And that bill really that was signed by Trump and passed by Congress, the coronavirus bill, really showed that as well. Big business benefits and the working class survives. It’s a class war? It’s much more sharpened and clarified than it’s ever been before. And I really think these are laying the seeds for significant class conflict in this decade.
MF: Oh, I agree with you and I think we’re already seeing that. We saw, you know, since the Occupy Movement, people have been more aware and talking more about the reality in this country that it works for the wealthy and that the rest of us get screwed. I think we’re seeing in the way that the government is responding to the COVID-19 crisis, they’re showing that lives are not as important to them as keeping the economy going. President Trump tried to float out this idea of, “oh, maybe it’d be a good idea, wouldn’t it be beautiful if everybody was back to work on Easter and the churches were filled again on Easter.” And workers around the country have been on strike. There have been the all these wildcat strikes going on in all different sectors, from the auto workers to trash collectors. People working in the Perdue chicken farm, or bus drivers in Detroit who were striking because they weren’t getting enough protective gear. And then they won that as well as winning free fair for bus riders.
KZ: What’s also strange about this coronavirus crisis bill is that all these workers lose their jobs, which means many of them lose their health insurance because we have this crazy system in the United States that ties health insurance to work, which shouldn’t occur. But we have that system. And so there’s nothing in this bill about paying for people’s coronavirus tests or coronavirus treatment. So people lose their health insurance and get nothing in this coronavirus crisis bill for healthcare!
MF: And we’re not doing things that other countries have done either, like putting, you know, a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, or pausing rents. People are talking about going on a rent strike.
KZ: Pausing debts. People in the United States are in the highest consumer debt we’ve ever had. And so not only is this $1,200 coming slow, after people’s rent is due. It’s coming slow after people’s monthly debts are due. And so and nothing is being done about that. So it’s really a very inadequate response when it comes down to the people’s needs, and it’s really designed to prop up the stock market and prop up big business.
MF: I think it’s interesting that when President Trump floated out that idea of calling for people to return to work, there was a big…
KZ: Trump floated that idea only after hearing from The Wall Street Journal, hearing from Wall Street investors. They were all telling him, “people got to get back to work.”
MF: Right, the economy is at a standstill and that’s not going to work for the investor class. They suddenly realized they actually need the workers to be at work. But there’s a big backlash, and so President Trump announced he’s not going to call people to go back to work and that for now, we’re going to continue on this path until the end of April, April 30th. And we’ll, you know, we’ll see from there. There was another interesting idea that he floated out there that got a lot of backlash which was putting US troops along the Canadian border. The US-Canadian border is considered to be pretty much a non-militarized border, unlike our southern border with Mexico, which is highly militarized. And Canada was like, “Whoa. Whoa, we don’t want to be like the southern border.” Because the reality is in those border towns, they’re basically under like military rule. There’s high rates of violence going on in those towns, and oppression. And Canada didn’t want to be like that.
KZ: And you know, the de-militarized border in Canada is something that Canada and the US used to be very proud of. Canada still wants to keep it. The United States seems to want to change it. It’s interesting, the rationale makes no sense.
MF: Yeah, that’s exactly true.I can’t even think about why the United States wants to do that.
KZ: Well they’re claiming they want stop Canadians from coming to the United States.
MF: Right, but that’s the whole thing. Again, it’s like, let’s go back to reality because that’s not an actual reason. In 2018, there were fewer than a thousand Canadians that tried to get into the United States, while that same year there were 20,000 people from the United States trying to get into Canada. So if anybody wanted to have a rationale to militarize their border, it would be Canada.
KZ: It makes no sense. It’s just one more example of how this response is really highlighting how our systems just don’t work. And I think one of the really interesting things about this coronavirus crisis… who the essential workers are. These are some of the lowest paid workers in the country. We’re talking about trash collectors, grocery store workers, delivery people, postal people. These are not well paid workers. These are not well-respected workers. They are not given the dignity they deserve.
MF: They are now.
KZ: And I think hopefully people are seeing that they have power. People power is real. And what I mean by that is without these people doing their jobs, the economy does not work.You know, it was interesting when Trump floated that idea about sending people back to work, what started to trend on Twitter was general strike, hashtag GeneralStrike, hashtag GeneralStrike2020. Wow. If people United States start really thinking about a general strike, now they see they have the power to stop the economy. Wow! And a general strike, by the way, does not just mean people not working. It means a rent strike. It means a mortgage strike. It means a tax strike, a debt strike.
MF: There’s lots of ways that people can resist and participate in a type of a general strike. They’re very powerful.
KZ: And a general strike is not like a one day event. You can start that way. You can start with a one hour event. What it is is a campaign that can last weeks or months or years. It is real class war, and that’s why I’m saying that the events that we’re now going through with the coronavirus and the economic collapse are planting the seeds for radical change in the next 10 years, if people realize their power, recognize their power, and are not afraid to use their power. That last one is key.
MF: Absolutely. And so that’s what we wrote about in our newsletter this week at Popular Resistance. We’ve been writing about how the 2020s are a decade of potential transformation, and last week we focused on healthcare. This week we focused on remaking the economy. People can find that at popularresistance.org. But I really liked Vijay Prashad’s article from the Tri-Continental Institute for Social Research, because they put out a COVID-19 declaration that basically had 16 points of what countries around the world should be doing right now. And it’s the basic things covering healthcare, stopping evictions. Making sure people can get their basic needs met for foods and things like that. The title of the article was, “We can’t go back to normal because normal was the problem.” And I think that’s what people are realizing, that what we have right now is not working, and we don’t want to go back to that.
KZ: We’ve written the same thing. Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report also wrote the same thing. Normal was the problem. We can’t go back to normal. And I think more and more people are seeing that what’s happening now is going to change things forever, because people realize that being economically insecure, being underpaid, not having any savings, not be able to afford college, having college debt, not having health care… I mean all these issues, all the neoliberal policies that have taken place over the last 40 years, and shrunk the safety net, shrunk peoples incomes, created this massive wealth divide… they’re all being put into focus.
MF: One important area of resistance that’s happening right now around the coronavirus is in prisons and detention centers where prisoners are going on strike. They’re refusing to work. They’re refusing to leave their cells, and basically around the country we’re seeing this happening. And what basically people are calling for is, you know, that immigrants who are being detained…
KZ: And some of those are on hunger strikes, the immigrants…
MF: They should be released. There’s no reason to detain them. And then prisoners, they’re saying, “anybody who’s over 50, anybody who has health problems, anybody who has a minor offense…
KZ: Nonviolent offenders, people awaiting trial…
MF: People on parole, with technical violations, people who have less than a year sentence… You know, they’re basically asking people around the country to contact their Governors and say, “you need a plan to reduce the prison population by 50% now,” because the courts can do that. The courts can make those decisions.
KZ: And 50% means a million people, because we have such an absurd prison population in this country. Two million people behind bars. It’s absurd! So cutting the prison population, because those are people really shouldn’t be in prison anyway… Going back to normal makes no sense. If you can release those people out of prison and society is not hurt by it, why were they held in prison?
KZ: Prison should be for people who are too dangerous to be out in society, if you have prisons at all. I mean we need to figure out alternatives to prison, prisons are way overused in this culture and we need to change that.
MF: And it wasn’t always this way. I mean this really took off during what, like the 60s 70s 80s …
KZ: When Joe Biden was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, along with Reagan as president. I mean, the combination was deadly.
MF: People are calling for Julian Assange to be released from prison because of the threats to his health. His lawyers are calling for him to be allowed to be released on bail. Another area of our society… Indigenous Women Rising is calling out the Indian Health Service. They’re saying that already, you know, Native Americans rely on the Indian Health Service, but it’s already underfunded. It’s understaffed. They’re saying that people who finish their medical residencies go into the Indian Health Service so that they can work off their student debt, and that people that tend to do that they are not dedicated. They don’t stick around. So they get a lot of turnover. So basically they’re just calling out the fragility of the Indian Health Service and how we need to be thinking about that. I didn’t see anything in the coronavirus bill that was providing support to the Indian Health Service.
KZ: No there’s no health services in the bill, which is interesting. Coronavirus is a virus. You’d expect the bill would be about heath.
MF: Well, there’s some money for hospitals. That’s it.
KZ: That’s all there is, but you know the Indian Health Services needs to be better funded, better staffed.
MF: And not privatized like they’re doing.
KZ: Not privatized. But you know, if we were to put in place a national improved Medicare for all, the Indian Health Service would remain under most people’s scenarios, but people who are indigenous would also have access… they can go wherever they want. All doctors are in the system, so indigenous people could go to those doctors. Plus they’d have the Indian Health Service, which would be focused on more indigenous-related issues, more culturally focused on indigenous issues. And so you’d have both.
MF: Let’s talk about some of the other impacts that the COVID-19 disease that’s happening. So the Defender 2020 NATO war games were supposed to go on from February to June. They started them and they’re supposed to be the largest war games ever… thirty-seven thousand soldiers involved in that from many different countries. And I guess it took the good sense of Germany to say, and they are one of the countries very hard hot by this pandemic, to say “no, we are not sending our soldiers to that, and you cannot use our country to bring your soldiers in for this.” And so effectively that shut down the Defender 2020 because the US was relying on the German soldiers to transport their equipment and things to the exercise.
KZ: The thing about Germany is a lot of the conflict between the US and Germany and Russia is the US wanting Germany to buy US gas, and not build that pipeline from Russia to Germany, and so the US has been trying to create a divide between Russia and Germany. And certainly these exercises would have added to that divide and the fact that Germany said no… I think Belgium said no first, but that wasn’t as important… but Germany saying no pretty much ended the war games. That’s a real slap in the face to the United States on this bigger issue of the relationship between Russia and Europe.
MF: The NATO War Games Defender 2020 was basically on Russia’s border simulating attacking Russia. Can you imagine how we would…
KZ: Including nuclear attack.
MF: Yeah. Can you imagine how we would respond if Russia and China set up a war game right off of the coast of the US and were pretending to attack us?
KZ: And working with Mexico and Canada and Venezuela, pretending to attack the United States. It’s insane.
MF:But there is another set of war games that’s supposed to go on this year and that’s Rimpac. It’s in the Pacific and basically last time they had it they had 25 countries. They’re saying they’ll be more than 25 countries involved this time…
KZ: But they won’t tell us which
MF: Right. I know that’s a weird thing. So as the Defender 2020 targeting Russia. The Rimpac is targeting China, and pretending to attack China.
KZ: This is all part of the new US National Security strategy, which is [called] Great Power Conflict. And when you see the US practicing war games to attack Russia, to attack China, and the strategy is great power conflict, it’s obviously laying the groundwork for a World War III. How could how much more clearer could the US be? To name the strategy “Great Power Conflict” and then practicing attacking China and Russia. It’s absurd!
MF: Yeah, it is absurd, and you know at this time, with this pandemic going on, many countries are saying, “look we need to be actually cooperating with each other, collaborating, understanding that this pandemic affects all of us.” And doing something about it… I think Antonio Guterres, the secretary of the United Nations, called for countries to cease their hostilities right now, so that we could focus on the pandemic. And the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, wrote a letter to the people of the United States… and we have that posted on popularresistance.org, and it’s actually a beautiful letter because it talks about, “We want dialogue. We want peace. We want to collaborate. We want to focus…”
KZ: And he tells the people that it’s up to you to hold your government accountable.
MF: He basically says history will tell… the United States is behaving poorly right now. We are increasing our economic measures against Iran. People call them sanctions, but they’re actually coercive measures. They’re collective punishment, as we talked about last week with the United Nations expert, Alfred de Zayas. These are not legal sanctions, they’re illlegal, and they’re hurting Iran. Rouhani reported a hundred different entities that are being targeted by the US’s economic war, financial entities, and how this is robbing them of hundreds of billions of dollars, making it not possible for them to purchase medications and supplies that they need. So it’s killing people, and he wrote this beautiful appeal to people of the United States calling for that to end.
KZ: You know you mentioned that we did our newsletter this week on the decade of cultural transformation and focusing on the economy, and the week before we did healthcare. This next week we’re going to do foreign policy because this crisis that we’re seeing now… the coronavirus crisis, is bringing out the worst in US foreign policy, not just what we talked about but the idea that Cuba is sending doctors and health professionals to Italy and China and a bunch of other countries, and China and Russia are sending supplies and health professionals to Italy. China is sending now planeloads full of health equipment to the United States, and that’s the first of a whole bunch of plane loads. And at the same time that they’re all doing that to help other countries, the US is escalating sanctions. This economic warfare against Nicaragua, against Cuba, against Venezuela, against Iran, against Syria, against other countries, it’s just obscene. And so I think again, these crisis situations are magnifying and clarifying what’s wrong in our political culture and what needs to be changed, and foreign policy needs major change.
MF: Well, they were eight countries that came together and called on the United Nations to stop the coercive measures against them, and these countries were China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Nicaragua, Russia, Syria and Venezuela. And the UN secretary Guterres, when he spoke with the group of 20 nations this past week, spoke about the need to stop the economic measures. Also Michelle Batchelet, who’s the head of the office of human rights…
KZ: who has not been that great…
MF: No, she’s a neoliberal, and even she, which would be far for her… She said, you know, “we need to question whether these sanctions are a good idea right now and that in light of this crisis, they should be paused.” What we’d really like to hear coming from the United Nations is “These measures are illegal. They violate the UN Charter and they must be stopped. Not paused, stopped.”
KZ: All these sanctions, this economic warfare that’s illegal, really shows Europe in a very weak position. The fact that Europe has to kowtow the United States and stop trade with Iran. Stop trade with Venezuela. Stop trade with Syria.
MF: Recognize Juan Guaido.
KZ: It’s embarrassing, and I think that these war games being canceled by Germany essentially taking the lead on that… is really part of the sign that the US and Europe are breaking. The reality of the problems that we’re seeing now from the coronavirus… these realities are actually long term problems. We can’t go back to the old normal. Once you see the truth…
MF: like that the government can just basically produce as much money as they want to
KZ: That’s right. They can do trillions of dollars and it’s not an issue.
MF: So why can’t we have all the things we need like education?
KZ: Right. Why do they always ask, “how can you pay for healthcare?” I mean, it’s absurd, and so now that we’ve seen the truth people say, “well we have to act on that truth,” and so our job I think and our listeners job… Everyone’s job right now is to express the truth. So everyone in the country can see the reality.
MF: I was glad to see this past week that a lieutenant general Robert White… he is a US commander in Iraq… He sent a memo to Secretary Mike Pompeo basically saying that we should not be attacking the Iraqi militias. Iraq has asked the US to leave, and we’re attacking these militias and calling them “Iran-backed” militias. And in fact, they’re just militias, they’re Iraqi militias, and he’s saying we should not be attacking them. We should not be attacking Iran.
KZ: So to see that kind of dissent in the ranks speaking out like that… you know that many people in Pentagon are thinking that and saying it. This one didn’t stay private.
MF: And I hope that others will be inspired by his courage and also not be a private.
KZ: Well it will be very interesting to see how the Trump administration responds… what kind of actions they take against this guy, or maybe they won’t take action against him. Maybe he’s telling a truth that some people want heard, and if that’s the case, maybe others will join him.
MF: In the last few minutes that we have, I wanted to talk about the Department of Justice indicting president Maduro, the president of Venezuela and 13 other members of the government and military, with these fake narco-terrorism charges.Venezuela…they don’t cultivate coca there. And if you look at the coca traffic in Latin America coming to the United States, the vast majority is coming from Colombia and Ecuador. Less than seven percent is coming through Venezuela.
KZ: And if you look at the reality in Venezuela is that Venezuela kicked the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, out in 2005, because the DEA was getting involved in regime change operations, rather than drug enforcement. And since that time seizures of cocaine have increased in Venezuela. Bolivia had the same experience. Bolivia kicked the DEA out in 2008. Morales was able to negotiate with the coca growers and shrunk coca growing in Bolivia by something like 30% after the DEA left. The real problem with cocaine trafficking is from Colombia, which is the major grower and producer of cocaine, and consumers in the United States. And the US is not going after those. Or Honduras, where the US coup put in place a real narco government. The brother of the president has been convicted in New York. On 26 charges, and the president Hernandez, was mentioned multiple times in that trial as being part of that cocaine trafficking conspiracy. But he’s a US ally so nothing is happening there. Bolsonaro, you know, when he went to the G20 a year ago, a lieutenant general flying with him was busted with 60 pounds of cocaine. And Juan Guaido. He was pictured with drug traffickers in Colombia.
MF: Well, this is how the US’ indictment is already backfiring, because one of the people that they indicted, Cliver Alcala, the General, who is an opposition member…They were caught on March 24th. There were trucks that were seized in Colombia that were headed for Venezuela that had all kinds of weapons in them. And he said, “oh, you know those trucks? That money that was used to purchase those weapons, $500,000 worth of weapons, came from Juan Guaido, who’s being funded by the US, and he said also I met at least seven times with advisors from the US that were advising us…” because they have these training cells in Colombia right across the border from Venezuela, where they’re training and preparing to go into Venezuela and do basically terrorism in Venezuela, to try to cause a crisis, cause chaos. So it kind of backfired because this guy came out and said oh but the US is paying for these weapons. They’re helping us.
KZ: Now he’s been flown to the United States, to be contained, to be quieted, and to be given a script of what he can say.
MF: Yeah, but the dangerous part is that the US has put a bounty on President Maduro’s head of 15 million dollars. And people are likening this to what happened with Manuel Noriega in Panama in 1989 shortly before the US invaded Panama.
KZ: It is very dangerous. Now Maduro can’t travel very easily. He could be arrested by a US allied country, or by Interpol, or by US agents. The US States courts have allowed people to be kidnapped and brought to United States. That’s lawful, for some to be kidnapped and brought to United States to stand trial. It’s obscene. And so the potential of war, the potential for kidnapping, and the potential of arrest… all these problems are made worse. Just like the sanctions have united people around Maduro, this will also unite people around Maduro because they know it’s false. One more time the US is desperate to try to get Maduro out. Everything else they’ve tried has failed. So now they’re trying this one.
MF: That’s what it is. So lastly I just want to mention some positive news, some things that people are doing in this COVID-19 crisis that’s really positive. And I think it’s important to frame that what we’re doing right now… we shouldn’t really be calling it social distancing. It’s physical distancing. We’re just trying to put some distance between ourselves physically so that we’re less likely to infect each other. But social, we actually need to be doing more of that. We need to be looking out for our neighbors, checking in with our family and our friends to make sure that people have what they need and they’re okay. And so there’s some really interesting things that people are doing around the country. There’s a lot of mutual aid projects that are being organized as well as people finding other ways to socialize, doing online happy hours…
KZ: Concerts online. David Rovics, who opens each one of these shows with his song… He’s been doing concerts online. Other musicians are doing the same thing, and people are holding get-togethers online, parties online. People are learning how to use zoom and other similar kinds of video conferencing techniques to socialize. People are coming together to try to solve crisis problems.
MF: Yeah. So to all the people that are listening out there, try not to get too down on this. Be creative. Find ways that you can connect with people in your community or your friends or your loved ones during this time. Don’t isolate yourself socially. Just isolate yourself physically.
KZ: And people also by the way are finding ways to protest. I love the ICE protests, where they surround the ICE incarceration centers with cars, and demand people be released.
MF: That’s a great way to block the streets.
KZ: And that’s just one of many examples of people being creative in their protests.
MF: Right, Well, that’s all we have time for. Why don’t we take a short musical break and we’ll come back with our interview with Dr. Mike Pappas.
MF: You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the Forces Of Greed, with Margaret fFowers…
KZ: and Kevin Zeese.
MF: And now we turn to our guest Mike Pappas. Mike is an activist and a medical doctor living and working in New York City where they now have, at the time of this recording, more than 46,000 cases of COVID-19, which makes New York City sixth in the world for the number of cases, higher than Iran, France, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, and where they’ve had more than 600 deaths.
KZ: Yeah, so you’re in the epicenter for the United States. Although I see more breakouts happening in Detroit, Los Angeles and New Orleans, Florida… So New York may be ahead of the curve for a lot of the country. Tell us first off tell us how you’re doing personally, physically.
Mike Pappas (MP): Thanks for having me on guys. I think that, you know, right now is a pretty stressful time for everybody. Not just people in the healthcare system, but I think just everybody in the general public. Personally right now it’s relatively stressful because I’m working both in the hospital system in New York City in Manhattan, and then also in the clinic setting. And there are a lot of changes that are suddenly going on to our already inadequate health care system. So for example in the clinic setting, we’re moving a lot of things over to telehealth type visits, so that poses all of its own challenges to see patients and be able to treat them or work with them through their various chronic illnesses in that setting. And then in the hospital setting things have just become more and more hectic, and I unfortunately only see them getting worse. Our hospital is building makeshift pods throughout the hospital. They cleared out the cafeteria. They’ve cleared out hallways that they’re making hospital beds there, doing everything possible to kind of make more bed space in the hospital. And then we already have… I work as a resident physician, so we already have pulled all of our residents off of almost every other rotation and they’re all going to be going to the inpatient setting. So things are drastically changing and I think that they’re gonna get worse as we go forward from now.
MF: A lot of people have been saying oh, this is just another flu, but have you experienced these kinds of numbers of people coming in, of these kinds of arrangements… is this typical of a flu season?
MP: That claim is somewhat frustrating to me, being somebody who’s been working with patients who have tested positive for a coronavirus, and having worked with patients who have tested for flu, and having worked through previous flu seasons, I do not think that this is anything like the flu, and I think that maybe making that claim is a way of people somehow coping with or processing the fact that they could be affected by coronavirus, or they could lose a family member from coronavirus, and maybe it’s a way of kind of downplaying that. But I think it’s somewhat dangerous because with this virus we’re seeing very young people who are drastically affected by it. We just had on our service a thirty-year-old come in overnight. No medical history, had already been tied to the medical system, so it’s not like there was an underlying medical history and we just weren’t sure about it. But to our knowledge no medical history who is now intubated in an ICU, who just decompensated or got much worse very very drastically and had to have a tube put down their throat to help him breathe. So I think that this is something very serious. I think it’s something that spreads much more quickly than the flu, and it’s something that I think that we need to take much more seriously, because I think that right now, the way that we’re seeing New York grapple with this virus… I can only estimate that New York is going to be the next Italy.
KZ: Well, one of the things that’s becoming more evident with this virus and how it’s spreading, and how its leading to mortality, is some of the flaws in the US healthcare system. Now you’re in the middle of that. Are you seeing that in your practice? Are you seeing weaknesses in US healthcare and how we’re dealing with the virus?
MP: Oh, a million percent. I mean, I think that New York is a test case, but I think that the virus is exposing all of the flaws in the for-profit healthcare system in the United States, along with the capitalist economic system, honestly. I mean we had months to prepare for this virus, and we see that not only is the healthcare system completely unable to respond in an appropriate manner, but just the entire economic system is unable to respond adequately. So we see that, for example, we know more and more patients are coming in and the healthcare system inside of… even if we’re looking at New York, we’ve been shutting down hospitals throughout New York over the past years. Governor Cuomo, who is the media’s new darling, has been key to doing this. We’ve been decreasing hospital beds throughout New York. Hospitals have been trying to cut staffing over the years. Nurses in five hospitals in New York were recently going to strike for safe staffing, and while maybe some union officials will disagree with me on this, but I think NYSNA really sold them out in that fight that they had, and they did not really achieve the safe staffing that they wanted to achieve. So now we’re seeing this influx of patients and all of a sudden everybody’s scrambling. We need more hospital beds. We need more staff. Can people volunteer? Can people do this? Can people do that? And if we would have given safe staffing to the nurses like they were initially demanding, because we wouldn’t have been closing hospitals in the city like Beth Israel hospital, because the real estate is more valuable in that area where that hospital is located… If we wouldn’t have been doing those types of things, we would have potentially been able to respond to this crisis better. We can look at testing for example. In the United States, we had seen this virus spreading around the rest of the world. There was a test from Germany that the WHO, that was accepted by the rest of the world, but in the United States, we didn’t want to use that because we wanted to give government money to some private company so they could develop a test. So what did we have? We had a poor rollout of the initial test that then had to be recalled. And we’re just starting to get testing up and running in the United States now. So after the virus is spreading throughout communities. So that’s on the testing front. When it comes to the protection front, nurses and medical providers in general, don’t even have enough personal protective equipment or PPEs. So those are the masks, the face shields, all those types of things to help decrease the spread of the virus. So just today nurses at Jacobi Hospital were out staging an action in front of the hospital because there are nurses there and medical providers that have been using N95 masks for five days straight, with a surgical mask over the N95 mask. So what does that do? It increases the chance that not only are the healthcare workers exposed and contract the virus, but then they spread the virus to other patients who come into the hospital. So in no other setting would this be appropriate to work in, but in this setting, where there’s this manufactured scarcity of masks or ventilators or these types of things… because all the different entities inside of the healthcare system are unable to actually respond appropriately with the immediacy that’s needed, because there they’re more concerned about their bottom line. The last thing I would say is an example of that is, there’s been reports that hospital systems are not going to buy ventilators, even though that they know that they’re going to need them, because they are saying, “well what if in some off chance we don’t need the ventilators? Then maybe we shouldn’t buy them because we’re going to be stuck with this expense that’s going to hurt our bottom line.” And that is the way that these entities inside of our healthcare system, and capitalist tendencies inside of our economic system, think, even inside of a pandemic.
KZ: It’s amazing that, you mentioned ventilators, Trump just said no to spending a billion dollars on ventilators, but just signed a four trillion dollar bill that mainly bails out the investor class and big business interests. So trillions of dollars for that, but not even a billion dollars for much-needed ventilators. It’s insane.
MP: Kevin, you just mentioned something that triggered a thought in my mind when you mention the investor class. There was this interesting article out of The Intercept recently where they reported that investment bankers were actually talking with device manufacturers, and with heads of hospital systems, and with heads of pharmaceutical companies, and telling them to find ways that they could increase their profit during this pandemic… viewing this pandemic as an opportunity to increase their profit. And we know that people think this way inside of that class, the capitalist class… because I think it was Goldman Sachs … not to long ago a report came out about them questioning whether curing disease was the best model inside of our healthcare system. And if curing disease would be something that would benefit the bottom line, or if just consistently treating disease and not curing it would be better. So I think that it speaks to the actual pathologic and I would say completely insane way of thinking of the capitalist class in our society.
MF: Yeah, it’s amazing. I remember being in medical school in the 1980s when they started talking about treating healthcare as a business and calling patients clients. And how doctors were supposed to learn business. And I remember just going, “That’s ridiculous. Why would I even want to study business? I just want to take care of my patients, you know, this is not a business.” And I never imagined at that time the extreme that this would go to… that having a conversation about whether curing people is good for our healthcare system. But one of the parts of that business model is that hospitals, like many of our retail outlets, only keep in stock, what they think they’re going to need immediately. And so now we’re seeing these various hospitals and various states pitted against each other as they’re going out into the market and trying to get this equipment… masks and things like that. And we’re saying the price gouging that’s going on with that. What are your thoughts on that?
MP: I mean, I think it is an insane way of organizing things, and while capitalists want to continually tout the market as stimulating innovation and creating the best outcome for everyone, and that competition will somehow make commodities cheaper… I think what I’m talking about when I say that the virus is exposing all of the contradictions and the pathological nature of the economic system. We’re seeing that the exact opposite happens, where you have a mask that can typically be bought at 98 cents, which I’m sure that actually can be bought cheaper than that but somebody needs to flip a profit from producing the masks… that are now being sold for seven, eight dollars, and while America’s darling Governor Cuomo will sit on stage during his daily address and talk about how there’s a problem with that, and how he needs to buy masks for seven or eight dollars… He leaves out the part where the whole reason why that’s happening is because of how we decided to organize our economic system and our healthcare system inside of that economic system… because our healthcare system is not based on actually the health of the individual patient, and the general public is not the prime concern of our healthcare system. It might be the prime concern of the healthcare workers, many of the healthcare workers inside of the healthcare system, but the healthcare system itself and the executives and the people that run it… their prime concern is extracting profit from sick bodies. Their secondary concern is making sure that I think as a public relations mechanism, that people are being cared for because they don’t want too many bad stories to get out when they’re trying to extract that profit. But that’s the system that we’ve developed. You mentioned when you were in training… It’s interesting because when I started my residency training, even starting at an FQHC in New York, which I think has its benefits and does good work on some level… one of the first days we had one of the executives from the FQHC come and speak with us and she said, “Healthcare is a business and that’s just the way it is.” And I was just like, “Am I in like the Twilight Zone right now?” that you just had the nerve to actually say that and you tell yourself as the head of this institution that is supposed to care about justice and these types of things… and you had the nerve to actually admit those sounds from your mouth. It was just stunning to me, but that’s the way that our system has worked. And that’s the way that I think that from even the beginning of training people need to be conditioned to think… so that they accept these dynamics once they start to work inside of this system.
KZ: The realities of our for-profit system or scary. Can you describe… how does coronavirus kill somebody? And what is the situation? We read a lot about the morgues in New York being filled up, and air-conditioned trucks outside of hospitals and other places. What’s the situation? How do people die and what’s the situation with morgues?
MP: Yeah. So in terms of the kind of biological mechanism of the virus… and I will say in advance I am no infectious disease specialist, but I’ve been looking more and more into how the virus actually affects the body since I’m treating patients who are affected by the virus. And basically what we know right now is that the virus is called the coronavirus or you look at the abbreviated term is COVID-19 that people might see …that stands for the disease of the virus. The virus falls under this category of viruses called coronavirus, and it’s basically because of the structure of the virus. The corona-like structure on the outside of the virus typically attaches to receptors that are found in the body called ACE II receptors. And that allows the virus to kind of go into the body and cause the infection. What we’re seeing a lot of times with patients is a multifocal pneumonia. So instead of in a typical bacterial pneumonia, where you’ll see one part of the lung that’s affected, with coronavirus you often see a number of different areas of the lung affected, to the point that at my hospital they’re actually doing a study with CT scans where they looked at tens of thousands of CT scans from China and they found that there’s this characteristic picture of the coronavirus on the X-ray, where they’ll have this multifocal pneumonia. And oftentimes what happens then is your body trying to fight against the virus causes fibrosis of the lungs, where the lung kind of scars a little bit in certain areas to try to protect the rest of the body from the virus. So as the lung is scarring in multiple areas of the lung, that obviously affects people’s breathing, and people who have asthma or COPD, or any type of lung issue, or other types of chronic illnesses like diabetes or heart disease or those types of things, are at greater risk of complications from the virus because of how it affects the lungs. But then the other thing that we see is as the lungs start to fibrose, the heart has to work harder to pump blood to the lungs for it to be oxygenated. So oftentimes what we’re seeing is people who are actually dying from cardiac arrest because of the amount of work that the heart has to do to pump blood to these lungs that are harmed by the virus. So there was just a story… actually, I think it was in the media yesterday… of a 17 year old in Lancaster, California who had died. He actually went to an urgent care center after having been sick for a few days. He went there and they actually turned him away because he didn’t have health insurance, which speaks to the disgusting nature of our healthcare system. So they told him to go to the local emergency room. On his way to the local emergency room, he went into cardiac arrest. And he was able to be revived at the local hospital, but then he died a few hours later. And that cardiac arrest is something that we’re often seeing with the coronavirus patients. The other thing that I would say that is really dangerous about coronavirus is, we often tell our patients, “look out for fever or shortness of breath, and if you’re having shortness of breath, definitely go right into the hospital.” But there are these other atypical or not normal ways of the virus actually presenting. So on my medical service in the hospital, we will see patients who come in with very very bad abdominal pain, to the point that we think, “Wow. Did they have some type of bowel perforation or something like that. They might have to go for surgery.” We will get a CT scan of their abdomen. It’ll look generally okay. But when we get a CT scan of their chest, or we do a swab for the coronavirus, they are coronavirus positive. So there can be these weird ways of presenting that we’re seeing more and more with the virus, where people can have bad abdominal pain or nausea or vomiting. And that’s dangerous because sometimes they’ll think maybe they just ate something bad, or maybe they just have a stomach bug. But sometimes that can actually be the coronavirus, and eventually that coronavirus can affect the lungs and then go to everything that I just spoke about. But people present to care later sometimes because of the different ways that the virus can present.
MF: Yeah. Wow, and you know, we’re still learning… we’ve only had this virus with us for a few months. So there’s still more learn about it. So, New York City is anticipating that they’re not even at the peak yet of cases, and that peak is still possibly a few weeks away. How are health professionals in New York dealing with that reality, and what can people be doing to support them?
MP: Yeah. So I think that there’s a number of things that health professionals in New York. I think just on localized or more individual level, people are even reaching out to their colleagues who have been part of the healthcare system and may not be any longer, and asking them to kind of come back to the healthcare system, because we’re going to need more health care workers. And New York saw something like 40,000 people volunteer to come back and work in the healthcare system, which is good. I think one of the risks of that is especially if we have retired workers who are coming back into the workforce, they might be at more risk of exposure to the virus. And then complications of the virus. So we’re seeing in Italy there’s a lot of healthcare providers that are coming down with illness and dying from the coronavirus, and I think that it’s important to note that that’s something we’re seeing more and more. As you mentioned Margaret, the research is kind of at its beginning stages on the virus, but what we’re starting to see in anecdotal reports from China and Italy and other parts of the world is the viral burden actually has a large effect on the overall outcome. So healthcare workers, for example who are being constantly exposed to the virus might get a greater viral burden and then have worse outcomes themselves if they actually contract the virus. So what we’re trying to do is at least on our service specifically is try to cycle providers. So we’ll have residents who are working a week on the inpatient service and then take a week off to try to decrease their exposure. And I think that when it comes to decreasing exposure, one of the things that could best help healthcare workers in New York City and in the rest of the country that is going to be hit with this… is actually having adequate personal protective equipment. So we really need to ramp up the production of personal protective equipment in the United States. And I think that Donald Trump hasn’t pushed that really. He just finally pushed GM to start producing ventilators, but there’s been this idea that “oh, well, eventually private companies are just going to do this out of the good nature of their heart.” And I think that we really need to push for a ramping up of production of personal protective equipment in the United States to help protect healthcare workers because we can bring more and more healthcare workers into the system, but if they aren’t adequately protected and not only are they going to be affected negatively by coronavirus, but they’re actually going to spread it to other patients in the hospital. We’re going to start seeing hospitals as a main location where people actually contract the coronavirus and then experience the ill effects of it as opposed to going into the hospital to be treated for either the coronavirus or some other illness and hopefully leaving healthier than they came in. So I would say that one of the things that the general public could do is, they can actually push for industries throughout the United States, especially non-essential industries and the manufacturing industry, to switch production over to personalized protective equipment, vents and those types of things. I think that that would be something very important for working people in general in the United States to push. I am part of a group called Left Voice which is an international network of revolutionary online publications. And one of the things that we published on our website was a kind of a ten-point program of things that we think the working class needs to push for in the United States to help healthcare workers and actually combat this virus.
KZ: I just want to quickly return that question about mortgages, because people around the country are seeing these reports of New York buying refrigerated trucks because morgues are getting full and people online are denying it saying that they think this is a hoax and not really happening. What’s the relation with…
MP: So I mean that is actually happening in New York. There’s getting to a point that morgues are actually being just overcrowded. I will say that I’m going into work at my hospital tonight, so I can look to see if that truck has arrived at our hospital. All I know is that at other hospitals in New York City, on the west side and in Queens, I’ve heard that they actually are having to have refrigerated trucks there because it’s just getting to the point that the morgues can’t handle the people that are dying from the coronavirus. And I think that, honestly, once testing is… We say people that are dying from coronavirus, right? But if testing is starting to expand in hospitals, and I think it is now much more expanded in hospitals, but I think that once we expand testing even more, both in hospitals and in the general population, we are going to have an exponential increase in the number of deaths that are actually attributed to coronavirus, because we can only say, “hey that was complicated by coronavirus” with a positive test, and then speculate on other people who may have died. But as more and more people become positive with testing, I think we’re going to see more and more deaths directly attributed to that. And it’s going to be that I think eventually all hospitals in the New York City area are going to unfortunately have a refrigerated truck or two like this because of the number of people who are going to die from the virus.
MF: So in the last minutes of our show, you and I and Kevin have all advocated for a long time for a socialized healthcare system. Do you think that more health professionals are going to get on board with that? And what do you hope comes out of this crisis in terms of our healthcare system?
MP: I think that if I had to kind of try to identify one positive… if there is any positive outcome of this pandemic, I think it is that the pandemic is finally exposing capitalism for what it is, which is in my analysis a parasitic system run by a parasitic class that frankly does not give a shit about the planet or the general public. And I think that our healthcare system operating inside of this economic system is also a completely parasitic, dysfunctional system that will never ever give us the type of care that we need. So I think that as more and more healthcare workers and the general public see the healthcare system exposed for what it is, their eyes will be open to the fact that we need a nationalized, universal healthcare system in the United States, where healthcare is actually a right. I will say just anecdotally from personal experience working as a resident physician who’s kind of like in training… I see both my co-residents being more and more… all my co-residents, both here in New York and then also friends in New Orleans and other areas of the country… being more and more just appalled by the way that this healthcare system is functioning. There are residents in New York that are currently on the west side that are working in the pandemic and their hospital won’t even give them a contract that they’ve been negotiating for. There are residents that are in New Orleans… that they have to ask their hospital for personal protective equipment and their hospital often tells them to buy their own personal protective equipment. And I think that when residents, medical students, attending physicians, nurses, healthcare workers overall, start to see how this healthcare system is functioning and how it cares predominantly about the bottom line, and about increasing profits at its core… they’re going to be more and more pushed towards supporting a new system, which I think is, a new healthcare system and a new economic system, which I think are both positives.
KZ: And that’s why we called our campaign health over profit for everyone because it’s that profit-based system that’s the root cause of the dysfunction. We’ve got to get the profut out. So at Popular Resistance, our campaign is HealthOverProfit. org. We already have two-thirds support, you know, in the public for an Improved Medicare for all. This is just going to increase the support, and it’s gonna become the common view. It’s unfortunate we’re going to have two presidential candidates from the two corporate parties, Biden and Trump, who don’t support the kind of transformation we need so we have to keep struggling as a movement and build that.
MP: Yeah. I mean I completely agree and that’s why I admire the work that you both are doing so much. And I really encourage everybody to check out the health over profit campaign because I think this is the type of thing that we need to be pushing towards, and we need to, while we see so many things in the public sphere changing right now that obviously are not beneficial to the extractive system that is capitalism. And I think that we need to mobilize the public to actually make sure that after we come out of this pandemic, that things do not return to normal because normal is what led us into this situation. We need to move far beyond that.
MF: Yeah, we agree. So Michael, thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today and for the work that you’re doing. It’s amazing that in this time when you’re working so hard, you’re also finding time to write and speak out. So we encourage people to follow your articles at Left Voice.
KZ: And we also publish him on Popular Resistance.
MF: We hope that you stay well during this time, and that you feel supported and are able to get through it. It’s a challenging time and you’re right there on the front lines.
MP: Thanks guys.