COVID-19 has laid bare the severity of a perpetually escalating health care crisis that had been quietly impacting daily life for millions of Americans for decades. Despite animating political discourse, the reality of this crisis was largely invisible for those unaffected by it, pre-Coronavirus. This was the context in which Bo Kovitz made her documentary The Desert, a film that addresses the fallout from an East Bay hospital closure that left almost 250,000 people, mostly low-income people, over 30 minutes away from a hospital. As COVID has torn through the country, it has refocused attention on long-standing issues in American healthcare that have put low-income folks and people of color at much greater risk of both contracting and dying of the disease. Kovitz film speaks to hospital closures that have left people in “health care deserts,” an issue that is both symptomatic and emblematic of the decisions in public health that have contributed to COVID 19’s spread, and the differential exposure to it based on class and race.
Because The Desert documents a local expression of a national issue, and approaches its subject in a smart, empathetic and compelling way, it has recently received increased attention as California hospitals have sought to deal with heightened rates of COVID infection and hospitalization, a problem exacerbated by hospital closures that have left already underserved areas at even greater risk. Kovitz and The Desert have recently been featured on thePBS’s California Report Magazine podcast, in The Mercury News, and on KQED’s Truly CA site.