It’s been roughly two months since we started social distancing, working from home, wearing a mask, staying home. And everywhere, the calls for opening back up the economy become louder. Because not as many people are getting sick after all, right? It’s as German virologist Christian Drosten says, “there is no glory in prevention.”
For now, in my workplace, things are staying the same. The school decided early on to close until the end of the school year, and I am grateful. I can honestly say, that I am okay, but not great at zoom teaching, but I am also glad it’s a temporary position.
Long-term planning looks different though. Educators are debating different models on how schools could prepare for fall. Some people suggest a scaffolded model (certain classes come in MWF, the other classes TR, and then switch the next week). Others suggest smaller class sizes, more teachers, more cleaning in between classes, some suggest just opening normal. Obviously, none of these plans are viable, because most schools are underfunded, there is the question of who takes care of the children on non-school days, how would transportation work, etc.
While all of the plans are different, almost all mention leaving immunocompromised kids and teachers at home. Even better, how about the immunocompromised teachers teaching the immunocompromised kids? Yes, these were actual suggestions made by actual teachers. But it is not just teachers- almost all of the re-opening scenarios do not include those of us with compromised immune systems. I do understand the need, the wish to go back to normal. I have utmost compassion with people fearing for their jobs, their finances, people struggling to survive. The idea of letting immunocompromised and risk groups stay at home, of opening back up everything is tempting. Except for the fact that a virus and infection don’t work like that: even if the immunocompromised child of a family stays home, what about siblings who may come into contact with the virus? Apparently, life is a risk, and we need to make choices I am told.
Fair is foul and foul is fair
What’s that smell? I think I just caught a whiff of eugenics. Actually, not just a whiff, it’s the full-blown stench of “survival of the fittest” (in a social-Darwinist way). Politicians around the world have indeed publicly stated that in order to open up the economy, old people and other risk groups may have to be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. Way to treat the “greatest generation.” As my wonderful and smart writer friend Maggie Levantovskaya writes about being thanked for her sacrifice of giving up her life-saving medication (for no scientific reason at all), that words like these “romanticize danger and exploitation.” A sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice, if it’s not happening voluntarily. And, an unpleasant side effect of someone else sacrificing your life is that you’re dead.
Eugenics and fake sacrifices aside, excluding risk groups from public life may hurt the economy. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 92.6 million people in the US are at higher risk of contracting COVID 19. That’s the size of a European country (Germany has 83 Million inhabitants right now) or a little more than twice the inhabitants of California. So here is your economic argument for not excluding 92.6 million people from working, spending money and contributing to the economy, Mr. Monopoly Man.
I could also write about the human cost of excluding 92.6 million people from public life- from children not being able to see their friends, old people being lonely and depressed, and life being even more dangerous for immunocompromised people than it already is. To those who so readily lecture us about how life is full of dangers anyways: We know. Any immunocompromised person, or person with chronic illness has to plan around thousands of things that an able-bodied person won’t even think about, from bringing pain killers with them, meal-planning, wondering what clothes to bring (keyword: photosensitivity) to change of clothes, specific supplies etc. Most of these things we don’t even do consciously anymore, but we do them to participate in life.
It bothers me that there are people out there who have no problem with excluding a group of the population for what they perceive as their freedoms. Because apparently, your freedom to congregate and potentially spread a deadly virus is bigger than my freedom to not get sick. (As a teacher, I am used to this logic, after all, your right to own a gun trumps my right to not get shot at my job).
The road to recovery is full of potholes
How about we don’t calculate which life is worth saving and come up with a scientifically sound plan of how to get out of this crisis? Over 80 thousand people have died of Covid-19 in the US, but the actual number may be higher. We don’t know, because there aren’t enough tests. If we had enough tests, better predictions could be made, and oh, plans to return to normalcy. To be sure, we don’t know about long-term effects, we haven’t even begun to grasp the amount of PTSD this pandemic is causing and will cause. We don’t know when or if there will be a vaccine, and what will come after that. All of that is uncertain and scary. I recently read an article about the actual story that inspired William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”. Instead of an dystopian (and borderline racist) narrative, these kids actually helped one another, they even went as far as carrying their friend who had broken a leg around. We have the choice of being the self-absorbed little snots of William Golding’s story or the amazing young people that survived on a deserted island.
So please, hold on, and distance for a little longer, for the scientists working on a vaccine, for the healthcare workers to lessen their burden, and yes, for me too.