Four years in, Access Press shares our community pandemic stories

By Jane McClure How do you measure four years?  In mid-March 2020, our lives were forever changed by the sweeping […]

Jane McClure headshot

By Jane McClure

How do you measure four years? 

In mid-March 2020, our lives were forever changed by the sweeping global pandemic of COVID-19. The worry leading up to the mass shutdown was palpable. That was especially true for those of us who live with disabilities. 

Oddly, it reminded me of growing up in rural Iowa and preparing for incoming blizzards. In those pre-high tech forecasting days, we often didn’t know how much snow we’d get, whether the snow would blow and drift, and whether or not we’d lose power. We didn’t know how long we’d be cooped up. 

As the pandemic threat materialized, I made myself some masks and tried to keep safe distance at a time when my work had me in close contact with many people. We were in the midst of Minnesota’s 2020 legislative session. Access Press was then housed in the offices at Capitol Ridge. That meant near-constant contact with people in elevators and commons areas. 

Our last big disability rally day of the 2020 session was Mental Health Day on the Hill. Fewer allies were present as groups from around the state canceled their usual trips to St. Paul. 

And then everything shut down. Minnesota went into a state of emergency on March 13, 2020. Other legislative rally days were canceled. Legislative committees, other meetings, work, worship services, school and other aspects of our lives swung to online status. 

Some of us thought, this will only be for a few weeks. (Some still are rueful about leaving office plants and lunch leftovers behind.) 

Streets were empty. Businesses that remained open were places we hurried to get in and out of. 

Some of us lost our jobs. Some of us swung to full-time virtual work. 

Who remembers the nightly ritual of banging pots and pans at 7 p.m. to support health care workers? Public health was challenged in ways none of us had seen before. We watched as ICUs filled up. 

We were careful not to waste food and toilet paper. Hand sanitizer was a prized commodity. 

For those of us with disabilities, many of whom already were living with isolation, our lives became more challenging. The lockdown added to our loneliness. 

Some of us lost the all-important day activity centers, as the shutdown became permanent in some cases. 

Others lost members of our direct support staff and personal care teams. Family members sometimes picked up the slack. Too many of us spent even more time alone, without proper care. How many died due to lack of proper care? We likely will never know. COVID-19 on top of the ongoing personal care crisis was just too much. 

Four years in, COVID-19 is still with us despite the best efforts to promote vaccinations. As someone old enough to remember obediently lining up in a tiny school gym for our polio vaccines, I cannot imagine why people are still so opposed to staying safe. 

Four years in, I think a lot about the many unsung heroes who kept us safe. I think about those who made sure we got our vaccines and masks and everything else we needed. 

Four years in, I think about the friends and family members we lost. I think about the friends I seldom if ever see in person because they are still striving to keep themselves or their loved ones safe. 

Some of us are still cooped up. 

Our COVID-19 Stories, which appear in this special section, are stories about members of Minnesota’s disability community and how they have coped with COVID-19. We’ve changed the names and promised confidentially to those whose stories we share.

Health matters are very personal and we respect that. 

Each story focuses on a different aspect of COVID-19 and includes useful links to other resources. We hope you find the stories and links informative. 

How do you measure four years?  

  • Wash your hands! Hands that look can still have icky germs!
  • Work with your care provider to stay healthy. Protect yourself. Vaccines are your best protection against being sick.

You are not alone. Minnesota Autism Resource Portal.