COVID-19: The Forgotten Victims

It is easy to how our current state of the world can be seen as dystopian. We are in the midst of a continuously evolving pandemic under the leadership of an administration that arguably has no idea what they are doing. During what can be considered one of the worst medical crises we have faced in years, we are trapped under the presidency of an incompetent, completely unqualified reality TV star. The medical supply chain is in shambles, with thousands of hospitals trying to gather all the resources they can to fight this battle. There are even pictures circulating of farmers putting their crops to waste, while there are millions of Americans going without meals every single day. While the plight of the disadvantaged communities, including African Americans and disabled people, has already started to surface and exacerbate during this crisis, one often forgotten community is taking an even harder hit with little to no help: the Navajo Nation. An NPR special done by Laurel Morales covers the situation in detail, which is where I will be extracting my information from for the following dystopian analysis of the crisis.

We have recently included in our class definition of dystopia that it can be developed as a reaction to, or exacerbated by some major crisis. The crisis in this case is clearly of biological nature. America’s response to this crisis as compared to other nations is definitively dystopian. It has created a state of chaos and divisiveness in many states. While some are following the advice of the CDC, many Americans have taken it upon themselves to endanger others by breaking stay at home orders to protest them. They have been emboldened by the president, as he has defended these protesters that clearly do not take the virus as seriously as they should. On top of this, in the beginning of this pandemic and even now, many hospitals did not have the proper resources to treat patients while protecting themselves. There was a major shortage of personal protective equipment for hospital staff, along with a shortage of ventilators for patients in need. In some cases, there were even shortages of hospital beds. Doctors were forced to pick and choose who got ventilators, leaving many without access to proper medical treatment. African American communities that already faced disparities in health care have experienced disproportionate rates of coronavirus deaths and infections compared to white Americans. Similarly, the Navajo Nation has highest coronavirus infection rate in the U.S., trailing only behind New York and New Jersey. One of the major obstacles the Navajo Nation has faced is contact tracing, as the nature of life on the reservation makes the process extremely difficult with only 80 people working to trace.

How the Navajo Nation may have already been considered a dystopian society because of the U.S. is an entirely different topic for another day. In the NPR article, Morales explains that in the Navajo Nation, many live without clean running water and electricity, and hospitals are few and far apart. This lack of resources makes it difficult for many citizens to take the CDC’s advice of frequent hand washing to protect themselves. The article claims that all these issues trace back to broken promises from the US (surprising, right?). Like Puerto Rico and other US territories, the people are considered US citizens by definition, but are not given the same, equal rights as the average American citizen. In my opinion, this is dystopian because the people are forced to live restrictive and oppressive lives under US authority in which they have a lack of resources, a lack of rights and protections, and have historically faced violence directly from the government as well as from discrimination empowered by the government. The practice of violence against Native American tribes is a shameful part of American history, and the government has done the bare minimum to keep this ugly part of our history alive and taught. It is arguably covered up to a certain extent, with very little of the true history being taught in history textbooks modified by the US.

The COVID-19 pandemic is only highlighting the preexisting problems the Navajo Nation has faced under the oppression of the US, as they have often been left behind. The US has failed to provide things like housing, infrastructure, and health care for many tribes that was originally promised in exchange for their land. The CARES Act that was signed March 25th promised $8 billion to tribes, but included a stipulation that they had to share their relief funding with for-profit Alaska-Native corporations. With risky conditions such as obesity, asthma, and diabetes being especially prevalent in this population, they believe this funding is insufficient to deal with this crisis. Even before the crisis, tribes already faced major disparities in health care funding. Recent data has shown that while the US spends on average $12,744 per person on Medicare, only $2,834 is spent per person on health care in Indian Country. According to a fact sheet from the Indian Health Services, American Indians and Alaska Natives already faced significant disparities compared to all races in the U.S. in mortality rates from nearly every cause of death listed, with the highest being seen from alcohol-induced deaths, diabetes, and chronic liver disease.

The US has had many dystopian moments throughout its history since its fruition: from slavery, to the Trail of Tears, to Japanese internment camps, the list goes on and on. It is without a doubt that we are in the midst of yet another one of these dystopian moments. As usual, the government has tried to cover up its wrongdoings and put on a guise as if its working on the people’s behalf. If we just listen to the experiences of health care workers and disadvantaged communities that are at the heart of this crisis, we can clearly see that the government’s claims are untrue. More people have died from the lack of action from our federal government in the US than in any other country. America has always been bolstered as the wealthiest nation in the world. Why is it that we have so many citizens dying from something that easily could have been prevented with a little action from the government? Yes, we have a very large population; yet, we are doing worse than the worst countries when it comes to rates of infections and deaths. The US’s response to this crisis is nothing less than dystopian; we have no other excuses with the abundance of resources that we have. The rich have been taken care of by the government, while certain communities like the Navajos have been left in the dark and forgotten. It feels as if social stratification is intensifying with rising tensions between employers and employees, landlords and tenants, and the privileged and unprivileged. The only way to dismantle this dystopia is to begin dismantling our health care and economic systems that do not, and historically have not, worked for all. When the majority of our population does not benefit and cannot thrive under our outdated systems in place, then those systems are undeniably broken and need to be fixed.

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