We all know we are experiencing a time that is very scary, with the coronavirus and COVID-19 playing havoc in almost everything in our lives today. It’s hard to know that the end is not in sight yet. As some states start to reopen, Minnesota will remain on shutdown until at least May 3. Even then, the state’s COVID-19 numbers are not expected to peak until July. The Centers for Disease Control just said that a worse time may come in the fall with a second wave of the virus arriving at the same time as the annual flu season.
The government reported in the third week of April that more than 33 million people in the U.S. have applied for unemployment in the five weeks since COVID shutdowns started. Some experts say that translates to more than 20 percent of the population being out of work. It’s astonishing to see it reported that the big hospitals in the Twin Cities are even laying off essential employees because the hospitals aren’t doing elective or non-essential procedures. They make a lot of money on those procedures, so they are also losing millions of dollars. Also, people are not using the emergency rooms as much as usual. Earlier last month, Fairview encouraged people who need emergency care not to avoid the hospital ER.
On the upside, the slow activity in the hospitals may mean that we don’t have to worry as much about shortages of PPE and respirators. Gov. Tim Walz also has a critical care supply working group of private companies working with the state that is procuring and storing supplies. I hope that way before fall we will have enough testing as well as protective masks, hand sanitizers, gloves and all the other preventive items we need to keep the spread down effectively.
While we worry together, what we can lose sight of is how historic this time is. No matter how old or young we are, nobody’s been through anything like this complete shutdown of the majority of economies throughout the world. Add to that the possibility that anybody you see could be contagious with a disease they don’t even know they have, but that could kill them–or you.
When I think back on other historic events I’ve lived through, like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or 9/11, at the time they seemed huge to me, and it felt like things would never go back to “normal.” But there was always a new normal and we became accustomed to the changes and moved on. I don’t think we can know yet all the ways we’ll be different after this pandemic, but it’s a good idea to think and write about how things feel now. We can all find ways to document our individual experiences of how this is affecting our lives and our world. The big bottom line is that we are all experiencing this. In different ways, sure, but … let’s each try to record the good and the bad.
For all the horrible things about this time, I’m trying to pay attention to the historically good things, too. It is pretty cool, for example, to see all the people who are looking beyond themselves to get us through this horrible crisis together. People are working and learning together, and even singing together from their front porches. People are looking out for and comforting one another everywhere and demonstrating how “we are in this together.” Technology is really taking on new roles, and showing employers how people can be productive even when they’re not in the office. That’s something that people with disabilities have been advocating for a long time.
Of course I share the big concern within the disability community about the possibility of rationing care. For years many of us have had the fear of being last in line when it comes to care decisions based on quality of life. The able-bodied community often doesn’t see a high quality of life when someone’s using a wheelchair or some other mobility device to get around, or has a developmental disability, or needs an interpreter, or uses a mechanical voice to speak for them. COVID-19 has already proven that it kills more men than women, more African-Americans than whites, and more people with diabetes, obesity and other pre-existing conditions. Let’s work together to make sure the health care system doesn’t discriminate against people with disabilities, or anybody, because of calculations about “quality of life.”
Whenever I get really worried and panicked about my own vulnerability in this situation, I try to think about the people who are truly putting their lives on the line to serve others. There are doctors and nurses and EMS personnel and grocery store cashiers who are dying as they do their jobs. I am grateful for all of them, and I know I can trust them and our state’s leadership. Walz and Commissioner Jan Malcolm at the Minnesota Department of Health have been doing a fantastic job of keeping us informed and safe. We all need to be wary of questionable advice like injecting disinfectants or herd immunities. There’s a power far beyond those of elected officials that I depend upon.
I trust my God in heaven and in each of you. Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay positive.