The rapid spread of novel coronavirus across the United States led to school closures, empty shelves at grocery stores, and entire regions being placed on lockdown. When the first stories about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan surfaced, I can honestly say I never thought about the virus impacting my life. I trusted that modern technology and biomedical advances would contain the virus, and if coronavirus came to the U.S., our healthcare system would at least prevent an epidemic and mass hysteria. Unfortunately, neither of those assumptions have proven to be true. Despite the United States allocating the greatest percentage of its GDP towards the healthcare of all developed countries (with the most recent expenditure being $3.5 trillion in 2017), a multitude of disparities and unresolved issues within the healthcare system continue to overwhelm the funds put into it. The most notable complication involving coronavirus is the overall lack of testing available and the questionable distribution of the tests the United States possesses. On March 6th, BBC News published an article entailing the Federal government’s statement regarding the lack of testing kits despite the increased need for testing across the country. This article shed light on the contradicting statements officials have made in attempts to ease the public’s worry about the country’s preparedness for the onset of the virus. Another article that sparked my interest involved the Utah Jazz organization of the NBA, which acquired and carried out fifty-eight tests for players and associates after one player tested positive for COVID-19. The numbers and circumstances of these stories alarmed me, but what struck me most was how they paralleled many of the healthcare disparities millions of Americans face every day. As someone who is interested in women’s health and is involved in an organization that works to reduce menstrual disparities, my mind immediately went to inconsistencies in accessing menstrual products. Before I continue, I want to be clear that I am not insinuating that the issues associated with COVID-19 and menstruation are of the same magnitude at this point in time, but I feel that there are some fascinating correlations we can draw and learn from during this pandemic. In 2018, the P&G-owned pad and tampon company Always published a study titled “1 in 5 American Girls Have Missed School Due to Lack of Period Protection” highlighting the challenges many young menstruators face in getting the menstrual hygiene products they need. This issue barely garners the same attention that coronavirus testing has because it impacts a fraction of the nation’s population, compared to COVID-19 which impacts everyone, and does not pose immediate, life-threatening danger. However, this statistic, just like the climbing number of coronavirus cases, is still an issue that needs to be addressed and resolved. Just as students, teachers, and professionals have to miss school and work to protect themselves from the possibility of contracting and spreading the coronavirus, hundreds of young menstruators have had to skip school because they do not have the period products they need in the case of an emergency. It goes without saying that this problem should not be as widespread as it continues to be. In reflecting on the Utah Jazz team's ability to readily access test, I found that the article mirrored a similar situation regarding the differences between the amount of period products available in metropolitan suburbs versus inner city convenience stores, for example. On any given day, I can walk into my local Target and pick from hundreds of tampons, pads, and liners with options like organic cotton, super heavy absorbency, and even scented varieties (please research the types of products you are buying before you use them if you have the ability to do so). These products range from about $4.00 to $13.00 which does not seem expensive, but depending on the number of products a consumer needs per cycle these costs can quickly add up. Although coronavirus tests are currently free of charge despite one’s insurance status, the simple availability of testing to the public versus those with a higher social status, such as the Utah Jazz team, is what draws puzzling similarities to the access of menstrual products across the United States. In this analogy, I serve as the NBA players while menstruators who experience homelessness or live on a low income are the rest of the nation, who have limited access to testing. While my hardest decision is choosing between Playtex and Kotex, two-thirds of low income women in the United States have had to use makeshift menstrual products from cloth and bath tissue. This inequality persists within the United States and is likely to become more prevalent among the COVID-19 panic that sent Americans scrambling to hoard items they need amid nationwide shutdowns and quarantine orders. Again, there are several of differences between the coronavirus outbreak and menstruation, but I believe they are not as dissimilar as they seem. While everyone washes their hands for at least twenty seconds and remains six feet from each other, consider the ways coronavirus exposes the inequalities of the U.S. healthcare system, and once this is all over, if there is anything you can do about it to work towards resolving these disparities.
*In this piece, I allocate “healthcare” to mean hospitals, clinics, private practices, urgent care facilities, and all associated personnel involved in providing medical care and treatment when necessary
-Prices found on Target.com in March 2020