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The people we should be talking about

I don’t even know how to describe my feelings about the coronavirus at the moment. There are so many things on my mind, but the most clear one is being realistic about quarantine and how it will impact people.

I was watching the news while I was in Florida for a conference, when the first cases were reported in the United States. I just remember watching in shock and cursing in my head. I just kept reassuring myself that things were going to be fine. We have the CDC that watches things like this. Surely, they will watch this before it turns into an epidemic here too. These are the things I was telling myself watching the news in the hotel lobby. That was in January.

When I go to the store I like to buy essential things in bulk, like toilet paper, laundry detergent, soap, cleaners, meat, spices. It is partly because I don’t want to go to the store often and partly because I grew up being uncertain of when or how much groceries we would have. I just like to be stocked up. I am glad I went when I did because the next week is when people started panic buying toilet paper, water, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer. That was at the end of February.

I waited a week and a half to go to the store to restock on produce. There really wasn’t toilet paper or hand soap in the store. I expected for people to be fighting over things at the store like in the videos that have been circling on social media. Instead I saw people being civil. There was an unspoken understanding that we all needed things from the store. People were leaving food for others. People were just buying what they were able to afford. I live in a working class neighborhood. I don’t mean to generalize, but I am sure that if we could afford to stockpile in a panic from community transmission, we would. Instead what is being bought are things like beans, rice, eggs, pasta, spaghetti sauce, canned food; all the least expensive stuff that will feed the whole family.

The working class, people like me, the people that are most often left out of conversations, are the people that are going to be hit the hardest by the coronavirus. I think about the sweet little old lady that we talked to. She seemed to look around, almost in disbelief that there were few essentials left to buy. I think about the families with babies that can’t find wipes because people are buying them for themselves since there’s no toilet paper. I think about people that come into direct personal contact with a lot of people like my brother who is a barber. I think about staying up with him until almost four in the morning, venting because people are worried about shaking his hand when his job involves touching faces. It’s clear that they don’t care about people like him. I think about all the people that have to file for unemployment because they are not deemed an essential employee. I think about how “essential employees” have been fighting for a livable wage, and until now they have been seen as “low skill” employees that aren’t worthy of $15 an hour. I think about all the undocumented migrant farmers that are feeding America, while most people are at home during self-quarantine. I think about all our medical professionals that are forced to work with a shortage of personal protection equipment, while others hoard these materials. I think about all of the children locked up in internment camps with no protection from the virus, let alone from the mistreatment of officers. I think about how the media is barely talking about the rise of xenophobia and racism “due to coronavirus.” I think about all the kids that are being left without their safe space at school. I think about all the domestic violence victims that are trapped at home with their abusers. I think about the mental health impact that this pandemic is going to have on the world. I think about my father and not visiting him for the chance of potentially exposing him to the virus. I think about how I can’t even send him to Mexico to visit my Grandma because of the fear of spreading it in another country and putting her life in compromise.

Most of all, I can’t imagine being trapped with the body of a loved one that has died because of the coronavirus because bodies aren’t being removed quick enough because of high death rates. This is a reality we face if we don’t do our part to flatten the curb. It is unrealistic to think we can get this virus contained in a couple of months when we saw that it took China four months to contain it and seeing how our data changes by the hour. We have to be prepared to be in quarantine for at least as long, if not longer. Let’s face it, our current administration terminated the task force created under Obama’s administration that monitors epidemics back in 2018. I haven’t even touched on economic impacts this is having and is going to have on the working class. We don’t all have the privilege of working from home, taking sick leave, paid time off, or going into solitude to self-quarantine. Time is money and if we aren’t working, we’re not making money.

Things are changing by the hour as this virus spreads not only in America, but everywhere this pandemic is hitting. I am angry that I see institutional systems still not being for the people like they claim to be. I am angry that Trump has had inconsistent, inconsiderate messaging around this pandemic and has put the American people into a panic, but at the same time using response as a platform for his reelection! I know that the underlying feeling is ultimately sadness, sadness that we still live in an individualistic society here in America. Do we stand around, watch, and do nothing as this virus progresses? Is that what it means to be American?

America is the land of opportunities, land of the free, and a melting pot of the world, yet we continue to see systems that disenfranchise the backbone that runs this country; the working and middle classes. We have to realize that we are all interdependent on one another. We live in a globalized society, there is no way that we can go on living as if there are no other creatures living on this planet. Everything we do has a direct and indirect impact on others. The most effective way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is to practice good hygiene and social distancing. We also have to stop misinformation and being complicit in light of witnessing the mistreatment of people. Yet there is no hand soap and there are never ending lines at the store. I have seen the power of young adults using their voice. I have seen what advocacy can do, what being at the table of important stakeholder meetings can do. I encourage everyone to find something they are passionate about and advocate on behalf of that cause.

Although it seems like the world has crashed, I do see hope despite all the negativity. I see people willing to be selfless and help. With all that is coming to light about this administration’s action and lack thereof, I see opportunity to continue to educate people about the functions of our democracy. I see the opportunity to shift history into what works for all Americans and shortening the pay gap. I see the opportunity to give voice to our most vulnerable populations and make quality legislation. I see the opportunity to change a system that has not been working. Maybe now, we as humans can learn how to treat one another with more compassion, maybe we will learn how to be good people. The coronavirus has given the planet a reset button and a chance to heal itself from the mistreatment of corporations, from pollution, and inconsiderate human treatment of one another.

Katalina Garcia is a student at the Community College of Denver and a member of Young Invincibles’ Young Advocates Program.