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Why Don't We Care About Protecting Sick People Every Year?

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I’ve been struggling with a lot of feelings as this coronavirus outbreak has progressed, and I haven’t been sure how to voice them.

I feel deep anger; a constant frustration at my fellow citizens.

Here’s the thing. There’s been a lot of talk comparing coronavirus to the flu. It’s far worse than the flu obviously, but for the last decade the flu has killed between 12,000 to 61,000 people each year. That’s not a small number.

These are mostly the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and people with underlying health conditions — really the same group of people we are trying to protect now. We are doing this by staying out of public when we’re sick, not sending kids to school, washing our hands and practicing good hygiene.

So, what I am really struggling to understand, is why didn’t we do this before? Why didn’t the lives of those tens of thousands of people matter to you before?

For those of us who are immunocompromised, or have immunocompromised children, the fear that you all are feeling now is not new to us. We feel it every year.

Flu season begins, and with crossed fingers and pounding hearts, we send our kids to school buildings filled with children that were dropped off with coughs and fevers and stomach bugs, knowing that ours could get sick and end up in the hospital or worse.

We furiously apply hand sanitizer when we leave a grocery store because the person in front of us looked like death and just had to go to the store for a bag of chips.

We fight panic attacks when someone suggests we take our kids to indoor play spaces and museums, because every time we go there, we see people there with sick children, and we know what the price of that family outing will be.

We end up sitting next to our child’s hospital bed because somebody’s boss wouldn’t let them take a day or two off to care for their own kids.

And the reason I’m so angry is that this pandemic has shown us that all of that was unnecessary.

We’ve learned that it’s possible for people to take time off of work to care for their kids, and their workplace can manage.

We’ve learned that people can work remotely for a bit and still get the work done without coming in and infecting the entire office.

We’ve learned that it’s possible to stay home while sick and have a friend or family or community member drop something at your door.

So why didn’t we do these things before?

Because we just didn’t want to. It’s really that simple.

I’m not knocking the people who go to work sick or send their kids to school sick because they’re desperate and can’t afford not to. I am knocking the employers that put them in that position to begin with and our government for perpetuating a system that encourages it. I’m angry at the people who until now, never spared any consideration for those who would die because they didn’t want to miss a social function or just had to go buy something they didn’t need right then. Who, unbelievably, never washed their hands and practiced basic hygiene before, and are now buying all the soap.

I hope that people remember this fear. I hope that the conversations we are having about protecting one another will continue beyond this pandemic. I hope the creativity being shown by bosses and teachers and hospitals and workers will continue, that we will build a system where doing the right thing doesn’t have to result in financial ruin or termination of employment.

I hope we can change.

We could have a brighter future. We could rally around the most vulnerable in our society by lifting each other up, by making sure people can afford to care for themselves and their kids. By building on the creativity of those who are making things work now, who are doing things in ways that they never thought they could. By supporting each other when we are sick, by taking a moment to think through the impacts of our actions on our communities, by evaluating what is actually important.

We could save lives, not just this year, but every year. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

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Originally published: March 23, 2020
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