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How We Can Use the Lessons of COVID-19 to Make the World Better

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My community is now on day 42 of social distancing guidelines, which have slowed the economy and closed schools. People are holed up in their homes with their immediate families, or sometimes completely alone.

This is such a wildly different life for so many people. It’s devastating, terrifying and overwhelming. Many workers are uncertain if another paycheck is coming. People have to wear masks to go to the store and struggle to find items that are usually widely available. Even Amazon, which had become a staple of shopping and two-day delivery, has now become a less reliable way to get household goods. Items like toilet paper are completely unavailable, and dog food is hard to come by.

For most of society, this is something they’ve never experienced before.

However, communities are rallying together to support small businesses and gather food for those who can’t afford any. Unemployment benefits are being extended to part-time and contract workers, and the government has even added to the standard unemployment benefits as well as sending out stimulus payments to every American.

These hardships are shocking for people, but they’re nothing new for many of us in the chronic illness community.

While some things have gotten more difficult for me during this isolation, such as obtaining my medications, finding adequate masks and medical supplies, and being completely unable to visit my parents and friends, others have gotten easier.

Typically, my town doesn’t offer much for grocery delivery. One small family-owned store has offered delivery, but only for big orders and with a fee. They’ve now waived their fees entirely, and are widely delivering groceries and alcohol to customers.

Restaurants which never offered delivery before now deliver all over town.

Neighbors pick up school lunches and drop them on the porch for each other.

Stores offer special time slots for high-risk and elderly shoppers now.

But people keep complaining about being isolated. Even with massive government assistance, small business loans, and a stimulus check, they’re angry about being closed down.

For most who live with a chronic illness, however, this isn’t new. We often find ourselves homebound, with fewer friend visits, unable to work, and often unable to do our own shopping. When in a flare, we need help that often isn’t there. The difference now is that so many healthy people are now feeling the isolation we are so used to, and exhausted by. But many of them have money, grocery delivery, restaurant options, and help from neighbors that some of us never get.

I’ve been incredibly blessed. I have friends who will drop everything to check on me, and have often brought meals for my family when I’m hospitalized. My family has done everything they can to be supportive and ensure we have a roof over our heads and groceries in our fridge.

Many people with chronic illness do not have that, however.

Now, though, things are improving in many ways. We can access many of the same things as healthy and able-bodied citizens! They temporarily have many of the same restrictions we do every day, but with more comfort and security.

When I first became sick, I lost my job, one I’d worked very hard for over a lot of years. I didn’t know where the income would be replaced, I didn’t know if I’d qualify for disability, and I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to work again.

At that point, I was dying and didn’t know why. I was so afraid.

Now, as people talk about their fear of COVID-19, it feels like a gut punch. I absolutely need to stay safe from COVID-19, it would likely kill me, but this isolation doesn’t scare me like people might think. I am not cowering in fear, but I do want everyone to work together to protect those around them.

My husband might not have a job when this is all done. My new part-time job may not be able to accommodate my needs when we reopen. My kids aren’t going back to school in a building until at least this fall, maybe longer if we see another outbreak like they’re predicting.

What scares me is the responses from some people. This outrage over an isolation which is intended to protect our most vulnerable citizens and our healthcare system shows a sense of privilege, and complete disregard for what life is like on a daily basis for those with chronic illness and those who live in poverty, those minority groups who are already at higher risk.

It’s hard, I know, to shift perspective when life hands you a batch of sour lemons. It’s really easy to slip into a “why me” approach, and feel like everything is stacked against you. I’ve been there.

The difference now is that there are resources for which many of us have begged for decades. In many ways, this current situation is a step up for a lot of individuals. We need better protections for minorities, chronically ill people, and those living in extreme poverty now and after the pandemic ends.

I don’t want to claim that people should not be upset or frightened for their health and their livelihood. No, I want us to feel what we feel and talk about it together. Their feelings are still absolutely valid, even if misguided sometimes. What I really want right now is to use these shared perspectives to make the world better for all of us going forward. Let’s learn from this and do more to protect every citizen.

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

Getty image by Luca Lorenzelli.

Originally published: May 1, 2020
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