Election 2020 is a referendum on the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. True, there are a slew of other factors in various races, but even those can’t escape the elephant in the room. Although COVID-19 wasn’t on our radar until this year, the magnitude of the pandemic seemingly eclipses everything else.

The pandemic exposed both the strengths and weaknesses in all of us, but none more than our elected leaders — both on the national and state level. Either you approve of how the president or your governor handled the public health crisis or you don’t. And how you feel will sway this year’s vote.

There are, however, a few other issues the pandemic exposed, even magnified.

Students forced to learn remotely further reminded us of the inequities in public education, not necessarily the fault of school districts. We can’t assume all students share the same access to the internet. In some cases it might be an economic disadvantage, but broadband accessibility remains a critical issue for those in rural areas. Broadband has been heralded as an equalizer for those who prefer to live and work in rural areas, instead of the hustle and bustle of metropolitan cities. It was supposed to create a level playing field for education and industry for those in the country. However, vast rural areas still don’t have internet availability.

Yes, the issue of affordability is a concern, especially for areas with large percentages of poverty like Rutherford County.

The time has come for broadband to be regarded as necessary public infrastructure, no different than paved roads. It needs to be available and affordable to everyone because it’s imperative infrastructure necessary for the future of education and industrialization.

If a pandemic doesn’t expose the need for a national healthcare system, what will? This needs to be among the greatest of priorities for our elected officials. Too many Americans and North Carolinians do not have health insurance — while in the grip of a deadly pandemic.

Why shouldn’t healthcare be considered equal to public education? If we can provide public education, it stands to reason we should ensure public healthcare. It doesn’t have to preclude private insurance for those who prefer it, the same choice with education.

The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, isn’t perfect. But instead of abolishing it, improve on it. Or, put forth a plan that’s better and equitable to all. .

No longer should healthcare in the U.S. be the most expensive in the world while ranking 15th globally, and declining. The primary reason for the healthcare crisis is its cost.

Be wary of elected officials who receive large sums of campaign contributions from insurance companies, drug manufacturers and those associated within the medical community. If you follow the money, you’ll quickly learn why certain congressional leaders want to eradicate any efforts at a national healthcare plan. Greed is eroding America’s healthcare.

Along that same vein, it’s time for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina where 500,000 residents fall within the coverage gap, which means they don’t qualify for Medicaid, but they also don’t earn enough to buy an insurance plan on the federal marketplace. Low-income parents and adults without dependent children have no access to coverage — which often prevents them from seeing the doctor, managing chronic conditions, and obtaining necessary prescriptions.

Here’s another rub, 60% of those going without health insurance are working families.

Nowhere is the absence of Medicaid expansion more painful than in Rutherford County where roughly 4,500 would join the county’s Medicaid roll through expansion. Typically, Rutherford has about 16,000 Medicaid recipients; however, the current tally is 17,270 due to the pandemic.

As of now, North Carolina is one of only a handful of states that have not expanded Medicaid. The Republican-led General Assembly has been opposed to Medicaid expansion.

Expansion opponents contend the costs will eventually increase, as much as $6 million in N.C. over the next decade. They argue funding would come at the expense of other budgeted items and likely lead to a tax increase.

I recently contacted both N.C. Senator Ralph Hise and N.C. Rep David Rogers to discuss their stances on Medicaid expansion in N.C. and how it relates to their respective districts, which includes Rutherford County. Neither legislator returned repeated calls and messages.

Voters should remember that when they head to the polls.