I am glad to be an American citizen and proud of my country’s aspirations for social justice, health and education for all. While we do not all agree on how to achieve these ends, I dream of ways we can reach more agreement so that we can feel like there is a place for each of us in a country that offers everyone a path to a decent life.
The horrific COVID-19 pandemic has thundered through the world. We see that some places have been fighting it with great effort and success, while others continue to be ravaged. We see graphs and charts that show the rises and falls in diagnoses, hospitalizations and deaths. If we have been fortunate enough to have been spared grief within our families, we still are aware of the enormous pain and suffering that is out there, both here and abroad, and it makes most of us feel fear and great sorrow.
Some of us are able to work from home, or have a source of income that allows us not to work. But many must continue to work. Health care workers and various others are on the front lines, being as careful as they are able, nevertheless at increased risk. Hospitals and staff are overextended, and beds are fewer. We’ve all read about morgues running out of space.
We could have had early widespread testing and quarantine, but when the virus spreads everywhere, testing becomes harder, as does quarantining. So here we are. But we can interrupt this catastrophe. We can wear masks and social distance. We still can go outside for exercise and play with children. Schools can provide virtual instruction — not ideal, but better than sickness and spread of the virus.
We can support families who would otherwise need to work outside of home. We can provide enough income for landlords that renters do not get kicked to the curb. We can support businesses, allowing workers to stay home and business owners to avoid folding.
We can lock down as much as possible. Groceries and pharmaceuticals can be delivered, as can food from restaurants. We can shut down bars and restaurants, except for delivery; people who are eating or drinking are not able to keep masks on, and alcohol decreases the likelihood that masks and social distancing will be observed.
I know that we fear that the economy will collapse, and with it our safety and security. But if we sacrifice our citizens — which is what is happening now — we don’t have the people who make the economy work. And without extreme safety measures, we are putting at great risk and sacrificing those who are most vulnerable — the poor, people of color and older adults.
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The current state of our response is mixed, admirable in some places, unconscionable in others. We live in a small world, and are responsible to it and for it. Even if our leaders do not mandate these changes, we have personal power to at least wear masks, to stay home as much as possible, to social distance whenever we can, and to get the word out about the changes we want to see.
We are obviously in desperate need of real leadership in these efforts. Make it clear to your elected public servants that you will not ever re-elect anyone who is unwilling to institute measures that save lives right now. The choice they have is clear. It’s not save-the-economy versus save lives; it’s save lives and the economy versus lose lives and the economy.
Susan Abrahams lives in Iowa City and is a retired counselor.