Happy New Year! I hope your holidays were good and that you stayed safe. The social distancing made my stay at home celebration very unique and memorable. How about yours? One thing we can all say is that it wasn’t a holiday season just like all the others.
It looks like there might be a light at the end of the tunnel concerning COVID-19. The vaccine is here, the state’s healthcare providers have been trained, and some healthcare workers have already received the vaccine. Throughout this pandemic year, having Jan Malcolm as the health department commissioner has been a benefit for the disability community, because of her background knowledge of disability and home care.
For those of you who may not know, Jan Malcolm was the executive director of Courage Center (now Courage Kenny) for more than 10 years. She has a thorough knowledge of people in the disability community and the issues they face. She will certainly have an eye on people using home care and will make sure people stay safe in all community settings. Right now it looks like all people who are “at risk” will be in the first tier of eligibility for the vaccine, right after first responders, hospital workers and nursing home residents.
The first shipment of vaccines will be for 183,000 people, but there are more than 500,000 of us who are at risk or vulnerable. So it may be a few months before all of us get the chance to be vaccinated. Still, if we keep up with our masks and social distancing, we could see the end of this pandemic by the end of the year 2021.
Going into the eleventh month of this epidemic, it’s getting very hard for some people to follow the CDC rules and the governor’s shutdown orders. The shutdown rules are really hard on small businesses, and have killed many of them. On the other side of this, it’s probably going to take many years for homegrown small businesses to get back on track. Let’s hope that January finds the federal government not dragging their feet or playing politics anymore, with so many people out of work. We all know people who have lost their jobs or are furloughed until who knows when.
There’s a “shop small” movement that you might have heard of, encouraging people to use small and local businesses wherever possible. Whether you go online or safely in person, use those small mom and pop businesses so they won’t all be gone by the time we get the vaccine out to all people. The big box stores make it easy and fast and cheap, but maybe slower and a little higher cost will keep our fellow Minnesotans at work until the end of COVID. Think about it. January is a good time for many of us to stay home or go for curbside delivery. It can be a good way to avoid those icy curbs and sidewalks.
The upside of the pandemic is that many of the things that the disability community has been requesting for so many years are coming true. We have real options for working at home. I remember not so long ago that employers wouldn’t consider hiring someone who offered to work from home. They’ve learned a lot fast about how people can work and meet online, plus they now have factual information on the productivity of people working at home. So many large organizations have adopted work-at-home policies that it will be hard to turn back. I read recently that some organizations are increasingly recognizing the intensified focus of people on the autism spectrum. In addition, they are finding that employees with autism can be very beneficial in job tasks that need someone with strong memory and creative thinking skills.
I hope that one of your new year’s resolutions is to get involved with public policy and government in general. A lot of changes are on the way. Besides COVID, Minnesota has racial and equity issues that need addressing at the capitol and in towns and cities. For example, in Minneapolis the city council will be discussing for some time the recommendations about funding for the police department, including ways to enhance police procedures and staffing to better address situations involving mental illness. People in the disability community need to be included and involved in all of these discussions. And the disability community itself needs to take more action to boost the visibility and engagement of disabled people of color.
I’m thankful for the new year and look forward to a healthier, more prosperous 2021. My heart goes out to all those that have been affected by the terrible challenges we faced in 2020, especially to those who lost someone dear to the scourge of COVID.
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Talk to you in February.