In recent weeks, as the omicron variant spread rapidly across the U.S., Americans have found that the financial costs of the pandemic are increasingly falling on their shoulders.
As COVID-19 cases have climbed, public health experts have urged people to dump their cloth masks in favor of higher-quality options — especially the disposable N95 or KN95 masks — and to test more frequently to curb the virus.
For some, the added financial burden is an irritation, but still affordable. To others, the prospect of paying $1 for a single disposable mask or $24 for a test kit is an economic impossibility, raising the specter that the pandemic will continue to exacerbate inequalities.
During the pandemic, three-quarters of workers said it was very or somewhat difficult to make ends meet, 40% said they couldn’t come up with $400 in the event of an emergency and around 20% said they went hungry because they couldn’t afford enough to eat, according to the Shift Project, an ongoing survey of American hourly wage workers operated by Harvard University sociologist Daniel Schneider.
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“These are the workers facing the virus, and we are asking them to buy high-quality masks and pay for rapid tests?” Schneider said. “For many of these workers, it’s just not a possibility — this is about food on the table. And when you face that impossible choice, the devolution of pandemic prevention to impoverished workers is really unrealistic.”