I had bronchitis and pneumonia numerous times when I was young. Every time I was sick, it was amplified with a strong cough. It wasn’t until I was about 10 years old that I was diagnosed with asthma.
Simple colds are not so simple; whenever I cough, it feels like my lungs are going to burst. I have memories of being in urgent care doing nebulizer treatments. I never know when a bout of shortness of breath will arise, but when it does, it feels like I’m slowly being suffocated.
So needless to say, COVID-19 terrifies me.
I can’t “just relax.” Now, I can’t help but wonder, whenever I struggle to breathe, is it just my asthma or something worse? My lungs are already weakened and this virus would only further damage them and potentially put me in the hospital.
Yet still, I have the means to stay home, which lessens my risk. But I do worry. I worry for my mom who still goes to her secretarial job at the LAC+USC Medical Center.
I worry about other immunocompromised people who fear for their lives in this situation and worry if they’ll get the care they need. I worry for all who risk this virus every day but have no choice but to face it.
But the suffering is not as equal as we like to think. We can say “we’re in this together” as much as we like, but as many people continue to endure these terrible hardships, we can no longer turn a blind eye.
Those who can’t afford to stockpile must repeatedly risk their health to feed themselves and their families. Even many people who use food stamps can’t get their groceries delivered, so they trek to the market, risking their health for necessities.
This fear also weighs on essential workers who have to work despite the risk they face every day. Whether they work in a fast-food restaurant, a grocery store or public transportation, their labor provides everyone with what they need, yet they can’t even get legitimate benefits and protections.
Just last week, a Detroit bus driver died from coronavirus after recently making a video complaining about a passenger who was coughing without covering their mouth.
Meanwhile, many who ride buses or trains right now are also essential workers on their way to their jobs, as they make up 36% of transit commuters. It is impossible to social distance in a packed bus or train, and this increases their chances of getting the dangerous virus.
We have heard the same lines so many times the past few weeks. Stay home. Wear masks. Avoid large crowds. Practice self-care.
These phrases are thrown around without consideration for those on the margins who have to carry the heavy fear of this pandemic.
Sure, these blanket urgings for people to stay home or practice self-care may be said with good intentions, but the truth is that many are suffering in this pandemic.
Unfortunately, being sheltered at home with all the resources someone needs is not a reality for everyone. Being protected during this pandemic is a privilege not all can afford.
Having a happy, comfortable existence at home is definitely not something some can, let’s say, “imagine.”
So what are many employers suggesting their workers do? Just don’t get sick.
If workers weren’t already mistreated enough, they are being mistreated even more so in this pandemic. Simultaneously, the majority of people are finally realizing just how vital many low wage jobs are.
Undocumented workers who work essential jobs, unfortunately, cannot get benefits like other Americans, even though many pay taxes. Some have seen less work or have become recently unemployed and now have nowhere to turn for resources.
Some have absolutely no escape.
For those who live in and around big cities, such as Los Angeles, the notorious pollution only puts people more at risk for succumbing to the virus due to years of inhaling “lung-damaging soot.” Meanwhile, people in these same cities are trying to make ends meet since they now work less or don’t work at all, but when they can’t make their rent, they face even more issues from their landlords.
The sad thing is that all these different groups of people in their respective situations mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg.
There are experiences out there that probably remain hidden in the dark, for now.
So, instead of just saying thank you, we must recognize that these people are more than their labor or their illnesses or status.
They are people who can no longer afford to be brushed aside, especially now.