What a great winter so far. There have been no significant snowstorms that stopped everyday life. The pandemic continues to have more of an effect on everyday life than Minnesota snow and ice; we still have to keep our social distance, and wearing masks and washing hands goes on.
Good news came on January 16, when the Personal Care Attendant (PCA) union, SEIU, struck a deal with state officials to give PCAs a 15 percent increase by July 2021. The union still has to get the OK from its members, but I feel that will surely happen. Then the Minnesota Legislature will have to vote on it and that’s where we’ve had trouble in previous years. If it goes through, this increase could increase the number of people working as PCAs after the workforce has been dwindling over the last five years. There are also some other benefits involving sick leave and paid holidays. The PCAs are front line workers in Minnesota health, and they deserve this recognition and increase.
On the COVID-19 front, we are still waiting for solid news about when the vaccine will be available for each of the “phases” and where one will go to get the vaccine. I have heard that some veterans with disabilities have been vaccinated, and of course healthcare workers and individuals in institutions. In mid-January, the federal government decided that anyone over 65 or who is vulnerable will soon be eligible for the vaccine. There’s a number to call on the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) website that you could call to make a reservation to get your vaccine. The first Tuesday that this was opened, the website went down from the huge numbers of people trying to sign up. But 6,100 people got through and got their shots. I’ll be calling this upcoming Tuesday and hoping that I’ll be able to get through and get a reservation.
But again, it’s not clear: where do we go and how do we sign up? The MDH website doesn’t yet seem to tell us much about vaccination for people with disabilities or people who live independently at home. The Disability Law Center’s Bud Rosenfield told Minnesota Public Radio that he’s very concerned about people with disabilities living at home, along with their home health aides.
We have to get going much faster on the mass vaccinations, and fortunately it seems like the new federal administration understands that. The new strain of the virus, which is much more contagious, is already affecting Minnesota. Anything more contagious is going to be a serious problem, as you well know. I listened to a story from the BBC about an 85-year-old man who was in the hospital for a kidney infection after he had his first vaccination shot, but was infected by COVID-19 two days before his final shot was due. He died. This reminds us that those of us with underlying medical issues will not be fully protected from COVID-19 until we get our second shot. Even then I’m going to keep using all the prevention measures until COVID cases and deaths are rare. I’m getting nervous and will be calling my doctors and clinics to get more information. So should you. We should all start voicing our concerns and doing all we can to get the vaccines we need.
Of course the other huge topic in the news is the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol in Washington DC. The National Guard was called out in force to make sure there’s no disruption during the inauguration on January 20. And there wasn’t. The inauguration went down without a hitch. It was a beautiful ceremony and all speeches were incredible. It was a very hopeful and happy occasion. Although not the typical inauguration with thousands of people in audience; there were only invited guests and us watching on TV. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar presided over the ceremony and was the first to introduce our new president, Joseph Biden, for his inaugural speech.
“Today we celebrate not the triumph of a candidate but of the cause of democracy” was one of the statements in the president’s speech that struck me.
Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet laureate read her poem The Hill We Climb took the day with her animated reciting of a masterful words, including “We seek Harm for none and harmony for all.” This is just one of her sentences that jumped out at me.
Like most people, I was eager to see 2021 begin, thinking that we could put 2020 behind us. But so far it’s been every bit as challenging as last year. I hear a lot of people saying how unbearable it is. People with disabilities have a different gauge for what is bearable. We have had more than our share of life-threatening health challenges, and we get used to politicians not understanding our needs. We can probably give everybody a few suggestions about how to “bear up” with being stuck at home. Like everybody, we want to see this pandemic end, but unlike many, we have a lot of the skills and experience needed to get through the challenges.
We’re living through historic times. But we can find a way to look at the bright side by thinking about history. All of us have parents and grandparents who lived through historic hard times. They endured and even conquered other diseases like polio and the 1918 flu pandemic. They went through world wars and the depression. Many endured poverty and had none of the household conveniences and tools or transportation that we have today. They also didn’t have social media to keep them informed—or riled up—on a daily basis. America has done it before and can once again overcome this disease. I pray that we will also overcome the mammoth divides between races, political ideologies, and social classes, and create an economy that is moving upward for all.
Have a safe and good month and we will talk soon.