By Jesse Jackson Sr.
I join those who pray for the full recovery of President Donald Trump and the first lady. Whatever your politics or your religious beliefs, all of us should pray for the millions who have been afflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That the pandemic could strike the president, so carefully protected and frequently tested in the White House, demonstrates its dangerous potency. As we pray for his full recovery, we hope that he will emerge from this crisis with a new awareness: teaching and practicing compliance, not defiance, of medical science, adherence to, not avoidance of, safety protocols.
If all of us were to take heed and follow the instructions to wear masks, keep social distance and wash our hands regularly, an estimated 200,000 lives can be saved in the next few months. If the president learns from his illness and warns Americans to take this seriously, it could surely help reduce unnecessary deaths.
The president, of course, has received the finest health care available in the country. When he first tested positive for the virus, he was instantly given a more serious test. When that came back positive, he was immediately quarantined in the White House with constant medical attention.
When his oxygen levels fell, he was given supplemental oxygen. When they fell again, he was airlifted by helicopter to a presidential suite at the Walter Reed Military Medical Center.
His medical team includes three pulmonary critical care specialists, two infectious disease doctors, an anesthesiologist, an Army nurse, four Navy nurses, a clinical pharmacist, the director of the hospital’s executive medicine program and the president’s own physician, Navy Commander Sean Conley.
Although his doctor insists that the president has only mild symptoms, he was immediately treated with state-of-the-art medicines, including Remdesivir, an antiviral drug, a polyclonal antibody cocktail, the steroid dexamethaasone, as well as zinc, vitamin D, famotidine, melatonin and aspirin.
We expect the president to receive the best treatment in the world. We should also expect that anyone in America would receive the best treatment possible. Yet, what we’ve witnessed are horrible disparities in treatment, between rich and poor, and between whites, Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans.
Blacks and Latinos are three times as likely to be infected by the coronavirus as their white neighbors. This is true in cities, suburbs and rural areas, and in every region of the country. We are four times as likely to be hospitalized and two times as likely to die as whites.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention details the reasons: “longstanding systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk.”
Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be without health insurance at work. Our access to health care is also limited by lack of transportation, child care, ability to take time off from work, communication and language barriers and fear of what will happen if we go for treatment.
Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately represented in essential work settings and are required to go to work, and thus are more likely to be exposed. Many can’t do their jobs at home and can’t afford to leave their jobs.
Many live crowded into small living areas and are unable to keep social distance. It is impossible to socially distance when many share one bathroom. With Blacks and Latinos disproportionately represented among those that have lost their jobs in the pandemic recession, we suffer more homelessness and are at greater risk of eviction.
Much attention has been paid to the prior conditions like obesity or diabetes that people of color are more likely to suffer. But, of course, the president suffers from obesity as well. What is more telling, as Harvard University’s Dr. Mary Bassett notes, is “who still has to leave their home to work, who has to leave a crowded apartment, get on a crowded transport, and go to a crowded workplace. … Those of us who have the privilege of continuing to work from our homes aren’t facing those risks.”
Here again, the president when he recovers could use his experience to summon the nation to address these inequities, both in delivering health care for all who need it in the pandemic, and for reducing the systemic disparities that have proven so deadly.
Many of course think the president isn’t likely to change. The Bible teaches us the story of Saul of Tarsus, a zealot who led the persecution of the early followers of Jesus.
On the road to Damascus, he was blinded by a great light and heard the words of Jesus calling him to arise and go into the city and teach the truth. He became known as Paul, one of the great apostles of Christ, who traveled the world spreading the word. If someone as zealous as Saul can change, then surely, we must not abandon hope that the president, too, can see the light.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow Push Coalition.