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 allocated 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 often 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 piece sheds 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’s impact. 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 the most was how they paralleled many of the healthcare disparities millions of people face on a daily basis. As someone who is interested in women’s health and is involved in an organization that works to reduce menstrual disparities in my local community, my mind immediately went to inconsistencies in accessing menstrual products. I am not attempting to insinuate that coronavirus and menstruation are of the same magnitude, but I feel that there are some fascinating lessons we can 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 constant challenges young menstruators face trying to get the 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 any immediate life-threatening danger. However, this finding is still something 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 to skip school because they do not have the period products they need in the case of an emergency. This issue should definitely not be as common as it is. Especially considering the shortage of coronavirus testing kits is in the case of a pandemic and menstruation is consistently present no matter the circumstances. Furthermore, the situation with the Utah Jazz mirrors the differences between the amount of 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. These products range from about $4.00 to $13.00, which depending on the number of products a consumer needs per cycle can become expensive. Although coronavirus tests are 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 are limited from testing unless deemed necessary by a medical professional. While my hardest decision is choosing between Playtex and Kotex, two-thirds of low income women in the United States have to use makeshift menstrual products from cloth and bath tissue. This inequality continues to persist and is most likely more prevalent among the current COVID-19 panic that sent Americans scrambling to get things they need amid nationwide shutdowns and quarantine recommendations. Again, there are hundreds 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 away 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.
*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