We may not like it, but our response to COVID-19 showed a lot about who we are.
If someone asked me last year how I thought America would handle a pandemic, I probably would have said I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I would have said we have the best scientists, researchers, doctors and nurses. And obviously, there is a playbook on how to handle a pandemic, so no need to worry too much. While I have anxiety about many things, a global pandemic was never one of them. Then March 13 happened. That was the last day I “went into” work. The anxiety of a pandemic has since taken up a huge part of my anxiety pie chart.
For me, seeing the lack of leadership, the dismantling of agencies tasked with handling pandemics, and the rulebook being thrown out made things worse. We saw things many thought would never happen in America, like a sitting president downplaying a deadly virus in the public. We saw an all-out attack on science, lies from the president about how the virus spreads, its symptoms and treatment. No one had ever seen a president stand at the podium and spew unclaimed cures like injecting bleach and sunlight exposure. We had never seen a president negate his medical team of experts.
Why Don’t More People Care?
We had never seen a President refuse to follow safety guidelines, like wearing a mask and socially distancing. Instead, he chose to hold huge maskless rallies as cases and deaths soared. He brainwashed his supporters to think anything they hear that doesn’t come from him is “fake news.” Trump and his enablers are directly responsible for every unnecessary death from this virus. Trump planted the seeds of distrust in fundamentals, such as science and scientific entities. Unfortunately, we will be reaping what he and his enablers sowed for decades to come. We have never seen a president so irresponsible that his administration passed up a chance in July to buy millions of additional doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine. That decision will delay the delivery of a second batch of doses until the manufacturer fulfills other international contracts.
This pandemic showed us how little many people think of our essential workers. I’ve gone to the same grocery for 15 years, so I’ve gotten to be friendly with several of the workers there. As I went through the checkout, I saw one of my favorite cashiers who had tears in her eyes. She told me the customer ahead of me wouldn’t even look at or acknowledge her. This woman told me multiple stories on how this pandemic has made people feel like they can abuse, dehumanize, and mistreat essential workers.
A man told me how he’s worked 20 plus years for the company and was thinking of taking an early retirement, even though he loves his job. Why? Because his heart broke every day, seeing how his community didn’t respect him and his co-workers. These amazing front line workers live in our community. They are our neighbors. Why don’t more people care about their health and well-being?
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All Workers Need a Living Wage
This pandemic showed us how we need Medicare for All and a living wage for all workers. We have absolutely relied on frontline workers like our neighbors who work at Kroger, Martins and Food Lion, along with gas stations, all of whom deserve a living wage. Nurses who are working 18-hour days, facing even worse staffing shortages than before COVID-19 deserve the respect of a living wage. The very people who have been there for everyone need to be thanked for all that they continue to do while their community faces a pandemic. The only way to truly thank them is a living wage.
This pandemic showed us the need for universal, free daycare, and family leave. I have talked to countless parents who are forced to make unsafe decisions that they are uncomfortable with. Because they are essential workers, some have to put their child in daycare. Some are facing financial struggles because of work restraints and forced quarantining due to exposure.
This pandemic showed us the need to restructure so much of our American society. Why is it acceptable to anyone that the billionaires in our country made so much money off the pandemic while so many suffer? Why is it acceptable to let some people die just so you don’t have to wear a mask? Should the “haves” get the best treatment while the “have –not’s” have to suffer and die alone? Even Rudy Giuluani said on Dec 10 after his virus treatment, “I think if it wasn’t me, I wouldn’t have been put in the hospital. Sometimes when you’re a celebrity, they’re worried if something happens to you; they’re going to examine it more carefully and do everything right.”
What Could Have Been
This pandemic showed us that some people will not do what it takes to help or save their neighbor. Or themselves for that matter. This pandemic showed us how self-centered so many of us are, valuing the economy over human lives.
I think back to March 13 all the time. I imagine how different things could have gone if we had national leadership pushing a national mask mandate. Or a Congress who funded an actual plan to shut things down and pay people to stay home. What if we had local leaders who stepped up and made sure everyone followed the rules? If things could have been different, we could have attacked this virus with the strength, resilience, and power of a united America. We would have squashed the virus by now. But here we are, more than 10 months into the pandemic and we are hitting daily case deaths now. We are hitting new death numbers now.
Nothing has made me more disappointed in my country and my fellow human than the handling of this global pandemic.
Jennifer Lewis is a grassroots activist and community organizer, avid volunteer and kitty rescuer. She currently serves as chair of Arc of Augusta, on the board of Valley Hope Counseling, as captain of Waynesboro SAW Mutual Aid group, and works full time as a mental health worker. She lives in Waynesboro.