Things That I'm Learning from the Coronavirus

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Just a week ago, all was well, and good. I was attending birthday parties and hitting up happy hours with my girlfriends while rumors of a new coronavirus echoed in the background of news caste here and there. In December news of the flu-like illness was reported to be devastating China. Three months later we recognize this disease to be a novel coronavirus that has spread to South Korea, brought Italy to its knees, and now has Americans adjusting their social behavior, introducing concepts like social distancing and self-isolating in order to flatten the statistical curve and slow if not stop the spread of the virus. The seriousness of this virus contagion escalated quickly and as suddenly as this situation became the most critical matter of the day, so has my interest in learning about pandemics and humanities response behavior expanded. 

I’ve Never Witnessed Anything Like This

When I consider my exposure to high stress-inducing events totally outside of my control, my 911 experience probably tops the list. After 9/11, there was a constant flow of commentary and news reports on the TV and radio and offered by friends and strangers alike, no matter where you went. The news and sharing tendencies were inescapable and all-consuming, very much like our experience today with the novel coronavirus. As well, the atmosphere is similar: A blanket of fear and uncertainty radiates from every person you encounter, significantly magnified by our exposure to social media.

Before 9/11 it never really occurred to me that a war had not been fought on American soil since the Civil war; we always went to the fight, the fight has never come to us. 9/11 burst that bubble of invincibility and revealed that we were actually vulnerable. Similarly, the virus seemed to bring a battle being fought on a distant land right to our doorsteps. I could not imagine that the virus would make it to the US, but I was totally wrong.

It’s Not About Be

Americans, especially young Americans are quite individualistic. As such, they consider most things in terms of their personal preferences. For me, my first impression of the coronavirus was that it was just a disease isolated in China and had nothing to do with me. When I learned that young people are generally considered immune or safe from contracting coronavirus, again I thought, “I have nothing to worry about.” Now I know that this disease has everything to do with me, even though my understanding of its effects on me is unclear. Although young people are considered relatively safe from the disease, they can be carriers and spread it to those who are more vulnerable. Further, the lack of obvious symptoms is not related to its ability to infect you. The message in this is that everyone should conduct themselves as though they are contagious thereby keeping everyone else safe.

I’m Privileged AF

As a black woman, from a low-socioeconomic background, and a daughter of immigrant parents, all this says something unique about me. To further complicate my profile, consider that I hold two degrees, I have a salaried job, and I have good health insurance. I’m stunned to see the depths of effects that the shutdown in the US has had on the security and livelihood of everyone. States are enforcing social distancing which results in the closure of businesses and schools. We’ve long known about the inequalities people in the US are subjected too. I know people with advanced degrees who are working three jobs to make ends meet, but the full extent of the inequalities that this disease has revealed should make us all feel truly ashamed.

Employers are not providing paid leave and do not provide health insurance. Families that have to work don’t have the money to cover childcare for their children who are pulled out of school. Further, consider undocumented people who don’t have health insurance and live their lives in the shadows and would not come forward to see a doctor for the virus even if they really needed to. What about the kids who get their only nutritious meal from school or will fall behind because they don’t have the technology to keep up with their lessons that have been moved online. I walked by my local library and noticed that it had been closed down. Seeing that made me think of all of the homeless people who don’t have a place to rest and or warm up. And I’m almost certain they are unable to go to the hospital to be treated. I thought my worldview was pretty broad but this pandemic makes me realize that I don’t really think about other people and their circumstances very often.

We’re All In This Together

To get through this pandemic we have to be conscious of our blind spots and realize we are only as good as our least privileged persons. People are coming to realize this and are beginning to show up for those who can’t quite manage to show up for themselves. Whether they are sewing surgical masks so that the doctors and nurses on the front lines can protect themselves, or shopping and delivering food for our most vulnerable populations, babysitting kids of essential workers, making donations to assist people out of work, or even providing levity by sharing memes and Tik Tok videos. We’ve realized even though in isolation and social distancing, we need each other now more than ever.

The Most Essential People Are the Least Valued

While the rest of us are working from home, those who weren’t even considered worthy to make a living wage are the ones keeping our country stable and preserving the slightest sense of normalcy. Grocery store workers, custodians, public transit workers are among the working class of people that our society has considered the most expendable, yet without them today, we would be facing Walking Dead level catastrophe and chaos. I pray that we remember this when we consider the 2020 elections and it’s time to elect leaders. We need to make sure we remember all of the elected representatives who voted to bail out corporate America and who are contributing little in the fight against the coronavirus? I’m not really sure about that though. I hope we remember the people who fought against universal health care when universal health care could have assisted in diminishing the spread of the virus and keeping families financially whole.

I hope that this unity, this consciousness, our human decency doesn’t evaporate once we get beyond the pandemic, and return to work, school, brunches, and playdates. I hope we remember one another at our lowest so that we can provide more empathy and grace toward people who experience these lows on the regular.

Featured photo: Laci Jordan

Eunice Omega is originally from Connecticut and received her Bachelors in English & Journalism with a minor in African American Studies at the University of Connecticut. Afterward, she pursued her Masters in Higher Education and Student Affairs from New York University. Eunice currently works as an Assistant Director of Residence Life at The School of American Ballet, the premiere dance academy for inspiring dancers. Eunice currently lives in Manhattan and on her spare time she enjoys writing for her where she takes a critical view on pop culture, shares personal stories, and her adventures traveling. She also loves to explore the city and spend time with her family.


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