Pro sports cut the line for COVID testing. The vaccine is next

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The National Hockey League, like the rest of the major sports leagues in America, played their past season in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. They will, like all those same leagues, play their next season during the pandemic, too, because, at least in America, it continues to rage on.

In order to put on the end of the 2020 campaign and their playoffs, the NHL — again, like the rest of the leagues — consumed an enormous amount of test kits and lab time in order to ensure their players and staff were coronavirus-free. You might remember from just last month, the discussion of the “success” of sports during a pandemic, and what the cost of that was, part of which was that two-thirds of the nurses from the largest nurses union in America haven’t been tested for coronavirus a single time, while the NFL alone consumed well over half-a-million tests to that point in their season:

The piece goes on to discuss nurses in Los Angeles who protested the fact that UCLA’s athletic department went through over 1,200 tests in a week while the healthcare workers at UCLA’s hospitals weren’t able to be tested. It talks about how two-thirds of the 15,000 nurses in the largest nursing union in the country responded to a recent survey by saying they haven’t been tested this whole time. The NFL, meanwhile, “has conducted roughly 645,000 coronavirus tests.” That’s 43 tests per union nurse, if you’re wondering.

It’s not just that the tests aren’t free for those who need them, which would help take the burden off of hospitals in need of tests for their healthcare workers. It’s that the priorities are entirely off on who needs them and the facilities required to process the tests in the first place. Both the tests and the lab time are going to places like the NFL, and then they don’t even necessarily use the information learned by the tests to make good decisions. Hundreds of thousands of tests taken more for public relations purposes than for actual safety, while the vast majority of frontline nurses go entirely without. And for something — sports — we could all live without existing during the pandemic, to boot.

Now, just wait until everyone in charge figures out the priority for whatever vaccine ends up developed and on the market first. This certainly won’t be the last story you’ll see in this genre of inequality and poor prioritization.

That last graf was the kicker of that article for a reason, which brings us to the now, and why this newsletter began with mention of the NHL. It turns out that the NHL is planning, according to NHL reporter John Shannon, on “the private purchase” of an unnamed coronavirus vaccine to be distributed to everyone involved in the 2021 season — players, staff, and so on. Now the NHL isn’t huge, as it’s about where MLB is in terms of the number of players, but we’re still talking about a league buying up a vaccine most people are going to have to wait in line for. It’s a league flexing their financial muscle and prestige in order to cut the line and ensure that their business continues as usual.

It’s just like the NBA having a direct line to health officials before the pandemic even reached America’s shores, in order to claim a significant percentage of the available tests and lab time for whatever state they happened to need testing in, when they needed it. This is what happened in Oklahoma, in the moment just before the NBA postponed the conclusion of their 2019-2020 season: the 58 tests run on the players and staff of the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder don’t sound like many, but at the time, it was 60 percent of Oklahoma’s daily supply. I asked what makes an NBA player more deserving of a test than “a Wal-Mart employee from Oklahoma, who can’t use their limited paid sick time when they miss work unless they have a doctor’s diagnosis? …if they aren’t paid for their missed work, they can’t afford groceries, or rent, or to treat the symptoms they’re experiencing but can’t have tested yet?”

The answer, at the time, was that the NBA has the currency, both financial and in terms of prestige, to get what they want, whereas the Wal-Mart employee does not. It looks like we’re going to play that game of inequality and access again, except now, it will be played with vaccines instead of tests.

At least with the vaccine, frontline healthcare workers will receive the kind of immediate access they did not with testing. But otherwise, we’re looking at those with power, influence, and most importantly, cash getting access to the vaccine for no reason other than that they possess those things. Again, I don’t think NHL players or MLB players or NBA players or those in any league deserve a vaccine and treatment less than anyone else: it’s that they also don’t deserve it any more than anyone else. And yet, here we are. It won’t be limited to them, either. Public officials are already getting access to coronavirus treatment that regular people don’t — just look at how well cared for the army of ghouls running the country have been compared to your aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and parents and siblings without the same kinds of connections — and you know the rich and famous from the non-political sphere will find a way to get the vaccine injected into their bodies before you do, too. They, too, shelled out the cash to get coronavirus tests when they were a real rarity, and the same is liable to happen with the vaccine.

Meanwhile, you’re likely still going to work, whether it be at home or at the stores that are inexplicably open, because politicians see helping regular people out as a bargaining chip in their power games and not as a virtuous goal to be seen through. You’ll wait for your number to be called, like most Americans will, while those with the ability to buy themselves a place in the queue will ensure that your own place continues to be pushed back. It starts with the NHL, but you can guarantee that the rest of the leagues will follow suit, and it won’t stop with sports.

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