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In This Pandemic, the Choices You Make Affect More Than Just You

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It is January 2022, and my children’s elementary school is in COVID outbreak status.

The principal mandated masks for all of this week for the first time this academic year. I told my daughter that the school was actually safer this week than it had ever been. She doesn’t believe me. It’s hard to believe it myself (although I know scientifically it must be true). Partly because we could tell that most kids were still coming to school unmasked since they were wearing the kid-sized KN95s that our family has been consistently donating to the school since the beginning of the year. And even then, most other kids were pulling them down to their chins.

The structure is broken. I want to believe that the actors within the system are doing what they can, most with good intentions and appropriate information.

But now, at this awful moment of the surge, our immunocompromised son is in pain and needs surgery STAT. We cannot risk delaying that because of a COVID exposure. And that’s on top of hoping it doesn’t get delayed due to staffing shortages and COVID sickness in the hospital.

Two years into the pandemic, in the middle of the Omicron surge that threatens to break our healthcare system and in spite of the CDC’s message that “your health is in your hands,” I am here to remind you that the choices you make with regard to vaccination, masks, indoor gatherings affect ALL OF US. No one is an island.

You do not know the physiology of the person next to you, or who they have in their home, who they are carrying your breath home to.

It should not be that my family is considering going into a higher level of lockdown (than even we are at now, which we never really let up from March 2020 levels) to hide from the choices of others.

Because when you say “we don’t have the same concerns as you” what I hear is that you think it’s OK for my disabled kid to be hidden, removed from society and community supports and programs, skirted to the shadows of friendships and acknowledgment and meaning-making.

So that when you tsk-tsk me and jut out your lower lip in sympathy (and trust me, I neither want to see your lower lip nor do I want your sympathy), what I see is a rejection of the very basest level of asks, a rebuff of a small request for your able body to be mindful of others, just so that you don’t experience any inconvenience.

An accommodation for you is inclusion for so many, including my family.

Wear a mask.

It’s such a small ask. That the vitriol surrounding masking is so toxic, it breaks me. Over and over again.

If you aren’t concerned about my family’s full inclusion,

if you don’t think that my disabled son’s presence in a community is worthy and has meaning,

if you don’t see that this pandemic has eroded years of gains in disability rights,

if you don’t see this pandemic as an equity issue,

if you don’t think that my son’s life improves YOURS just by the fact that he exists, he loves and is loved, and that his life is worthy…

then I am struggling to even know how to talk to you anymore.

I can’t keep trying to convince others of my son’s humanity.

And yet I am afraid of the consequences if I grow silent.

Originally published: February 14, 2022
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