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Sunday, May 19, 2024
CommentaryGov & PoliticsHealth

Disconnected COVID-19 caution is not enough

It’s a new year, and a new wave of COVID-19 is cresting throughout the United States.

In Kansas and surrounding areas, wastewater tests — which function as a preliminary public health alarm system — indicate worryingly high levels of the virus. Nationally, Eric J. Topol, a professor of molecular medicine, expressed his concerns in the Los Angeles Times, labeling the current variant as “the second-biggest wave of infections in the (U.S.) in the pandemic, after Omicron,” which rose to dominance in December 2021. It’s estimated that approximately 2 million people are being infected each day.

This past November, Kansas Reflector warned of the upsurge of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses during the holiday season, rightfully encouraging prevention and treatment. As we enter the fifth year of this endemic, however, it’s crucial to not only consider caution for ourselves but to also get real about taking care of each other.

Personally, I’m up to date on vaccines, and, as an introvert, I often social distance without question. Admittedly (and ashamedly), though, I have not been masking while in public as frequently as I should, given our worsening reality over recent weeks. Unsurprisingly, my lax behavior resulted in me contracting COVID–19 for the second time, and considering my health care crisis last year, this behavior was negligent.

More than that, I’m frustrated with myself for failing to act in ways that upheld my principles and values, which are rooted in collectivity and community care. Fortunately, a loving friend reminded me that none of this is our fault as individuals. For almost half a decade, we have all been largely left alone to navigate COVID-19 and its ever-changing manifestations, which is both unfair and detrimental to public health.

As government-led directives dwindle and structural solutions struggle to gain or maintain prominence, now is the time to turn to each other. From social media networks that outline mitigation strategies to reading lists that underscore care ethics, there’s a lot we can do to better protect Kansas communities and the world.

A huge part of our new normal is assessing — and accepting — what’s changed throughout our society and then learning how to adapt in ways that put the collective good ahead of individual wants and needs. Masking while traveling, commuting, or even grocery shopping, for example, can help protect other people, especially immunocompromised workers, who can’t avoid these crowded spaces. When we gather, at weekly organizing events or annual celebrations, we should gather consciously, ensuring that all folks of all identities can join together.

“A pandemic that has taken the lives of people estimated to exceed the total civilian deaths of World War I is still active, claiming as many lives as the world will allow,” wrote Estelle Ellison, a Black trans disabled writer who explores the intersections of ableism and capitalism, in an essay last month.

Choosing to be less cautious by only assessing our personal risk factors is, in a way, disregarding the needs of others we come in contact with throughout our everyday lives. Though I’m experiencing mild symptoms right now, I’m staying at home until I test negative because I know that any viral contact with someone else might upend — or even end — their life.

During the Omicron wave, our state lost 59 Kansans in a single day, according to data compiled by the Covid Act Now coalition. As Rebecca Barrett-Fox wrote late last fall, “acute COVID-19 infections were the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2022.”

Yet sadly, death, from my perspective, is not the worst possible outcome — as sufferers of long COVID in particular (and people with other chronic illnesses that have been worsened by the virus) can tell you.

What’s necessary to remember is that every action or inaction comes with a cost. Importantly, that cost might be billed not to you but to your child, a friend, your neighbor, or a complete stranger who has a whole future ahead of them.

In confronting the pandemic’s many inconveniences, true community care emerges as a practice that transcends personal comfort. Rigorous testing after exposure (with or without symptoms) and adherence to stay-at-home protocols, if your privilege allows, become acts of solidarity. Orchards Drug in Lawrence and other local pharmacies still offer free PCR testing, and online resources like the Clean Air Club’s guide equip us to navigate this shared challenge responsibly.

As it states, “Part of responsible citizenship during a pandemic involves avoiding becoming infected (and likely spreading infection) as much as possible. It also involves having a plan in place in case we do get infected.”

My vision for the future is one that centers those with the least access, inclusion, and power in our collective choices, so that we can foster a society where everyone can fully participate in life.

I personally can’t accept a world that lets people with disabilities and other risk factors be pushed to the margins of society because the rest of us refuse to compromise on COVID-19. I know that starts with me expanding the ways that I live my values as “genuine constraints on (my) conduct.

In his column, Topol called out a culture of dissent, saying that a “state of denialism and general refusal to take simple steps to reduce the risk of infection can be seen everywhere.” He also noted that COVID-19 “has once again proved to be highly resilient, capable of reinventing itself to infect us.”

In unity, we too can find resilience. And though the pandemic is not our only global crisis, it offers a key lesson: We’re capable of redefining what it means to care for ourselves by intentionally taking care of each other.

Kendra Bozarth (she/her) is an editor, writer and organizer who specializes in economic policy and narrative change. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

Excerpts or more from the article at: https://kansasreflector.com/2024/01/12/disconnected-covid-19-caution-is-not-enough-we-have-to-practice-lasting-community-care/, originally published on Kansas Reflector  appear in this post. Republished, with permission, under a Creative Commons License.

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