Before you dismiss this as just another rant about the coronavirus, I implore you to consider what I learned today. Since this pandemic nightmare began, we have lost more than 1,100 people who committed their lives to healing, saving, and caring for the health of others. I could have referred to them as health care workers. It certainly would have made for a shorter sentence, but I wanted to drive home that we are losing PEOPLE. They are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, colleagues, neighbors, and friends — human vessels of love, companionship, nurturing, support, partnership, mentorship, encouragement, and the list of their virtues goes on. Let’s not forget the hard-earned expertise they passionately used in the service to the rest of us. They are not disposable. Their families and colleagues will tell you they cannot simply be easily replaced. I will tell you they are not the frontline. WE are.
It’s long past time that we stop denying the severity of this crisis. Before we can get there, everyone has to recognize the reality of this crisis. It very much exists; even if it hasn’t struck you, your family, or friends (though, how could that even be possible at this point?). The far-reaching impact of this pandemic is painfully obvious:
Food insecurity is evident in the long lines where families can wait for hours to receive provisions for their families. Sixteen percent of adults in households with children reported having insufficient food over the last seven days according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Let’s not forget the importance of good nutrition in fighting illness and disease.
Job losses have soared, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that 2.3 million people had been out of work for at least 27 weeks. In addition to layoffs from large and small organizations, we have also seen business closings at an alarming rate. At the local level, small businesses serve as community anchors, the loss of which has a deeply devastating impact.
Education at the formative K-12 level has been dramatically disrupted despite the valiant efforts of innovative, hard-working administrators and educators across the country. There is a very real concern about the diminished effectiveness of distance learning, particularly for students who lack adequate resources and guidance at home and who have limited access to external support they normally received. This crisis has laid bare longstanding inequities and failures in our nation’s educational system.
Mental health professionals are reporting record numbers of inquiries and consults during over the eight months since the beginning of the pandemic. People are scared. Their lives, and livelihoods, have been upended. Parents have children they must calm and protect during this crisis. As our children lost in-person contact with friends, halted recreational activities, and missed milestone celebrations, anxiety and depression set in. A study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that emergency room visits related to mental health for children rose sharply; a 31% increase over the same period last year. There is also evidence that contracting the virus has a deleterious effect on overall mental health. Researchers from the University of Oxford reported that one-fifth of COVID patients went on to receive a psychiatric diagnosis.
Without a strong national mandate for attacking this virus in our medical system and on the street, we stumbled needlessly in the beginning. We received mixed messages from our leaders about what to do at the state and local level. Many of those leaders have reconsidered their earlier stance and are calling for more restrictive, yet protective, practices in their jurisdictions. Regardless of the missteps early on, we can no longer use them as an excuse for not meeting this moment. There a few, basic, preventative measures the experts have coalesced around for months. Let’s review:
- Stay at home except to take care of basic needs. Definitely remain at home, and isolated, if you are feeling sick.
- Wear a mask; if not for yourself to protect others. Numerous studies have shown that masks reduce community spread of the virus.
- Avoid large gatherings. Where possible, spend minimal time among people outside your household.
- Practice social distancing. Stay at least 6 feet apart.
- Wash hands often. As much as possible, keep hands away from eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Practice self-care. Make time for proper rest, nutrition, and exercise. Indulge in favorite hobbies and activities to take your mind off of the challenges brought on by these unusual circumstances.
- Stay informed. Follow latest developments and heed guidelines prescribed by the CDC.
Thanks to medical scientists and their teams who leaned into their expertise, and their compassion for human life in spite of early confusion about what we were facing. They applied a laser focus on understanding this virus and how it could be stopped. These efforts have been fruitful, yielding trial vaccines that look very promising. But again, they are not the frontline. WE are.
There is no doubt that we owe a debt of gratitude that we can never truly repay our healthcare workers, or those in foodservice, retail, delivery, and education who continue to labor in roles that place them in close contact with the public every day. However, we cannot sit back and merely applaud them. We have to get in the fight. Otherwise, we are ensuring that they stay on a relentless treadmill with fewer of their colleagues available to hop on give them a break. Whereas a patient death on their watch had previously been an irregular loss they could take a moment to absorb as feeling human beings are wont to do, they are now confronted with agony and death in unforgiving succession, every day. They should actually be the big guns we bring into the battle AFTER the breach in the frontline. WE are the frontline. It really is up to us to seal the breach and, let’s face it, we know how.