What can COVID-19 teach us about inclusivity and care?

They always said we’d get a second wave during the fall flu season. But, we all held out hope that it just maybe, might not be the case. And yet, here it is. And it’s not just a second wave. This recent nationwide spike makes March’s numbers look like a child’s game.

There’s a lot of reasons why it’s happening.

The anti-maskers.

The COVID fatigue.

The continual fudging of boundaries.

The incredibly large social circles.

What would it really hurt, we ask, if I just fudged the rules this one time? And then again? And again.

Or, how much can this birthday party really impact anything? I trust all my friends. And this is a big milestone. We all deserve it after how good we’ve been.

And yet.

Here we are.

A black and white photo of a crowded bar

I’ve been super lucky. I’ve lived in Portland, Oregon throughout this whole ordeal and, more or less, the weather has been wonderful since March. So, while I have definitely missed travel, seeing friends, and going out to cocktail bars, I’ve been hiking all over the city. Fresh air, beautiful views, and plenty of take out options. It’s been easy to resist the temptation of getting too lax. Though, I myself have also pushed the boundaries a few times.

But, as soon as the rainy season hit, my county’s numbers skyrocketed. We all had it relatively easy and as soon as the going got tough, the avid outdoor diners reassessed their sense of risk and moved inside. The backyard barbecuers became indoor wine tasters. And so on.

As the numbers go up and up, and people get more and more lax, everyone around the country is screaming. You’re so selfish, they’re saying. Why don’t you care about your community?

And I hear that. I feel that.

But I’m also not ultra surprised. I expected this.

That’s because this doesn’t feel all that new.

As you might know, I’ve been living with lupus, an autoimmune condition, for just over 5 years now. The majority of my friends and loved ones are great about accommodating for it. But, there will always be a limit to how much people understand and will naturally and intuitively accommodate for my illness. While I am more or less in remission, I have a couple of symptom-heavy days a week. This happens if I’ve been exposed to too much stress or too much sun. If I didn’t get enough rest. If I was on my feet for too long. If I get a slight cold. Essentially, if I’m over-taxed in the slightest, then I’m out of commission for a few hours. I’ll feel flu-like and sluggish and have the chills. My joints will hurt. Often, I can’t stand for very long. My feet ache and I get woozy. But, it passes. I just need to rest.

On top of that, I’m on a ton of drugs that lower my immune system, which means I’m super susceptible to illness. So, I need to be really diligent about germs and infections.

Most of the time, I seem totally fine, though, which is why people forget to accommodate. But I only seem so fine because I carefully control my life such that I can always get my 8–9 hours of sleep, that I’m not spending too much time outdoors, and that I’m minimizing stressful things as much as possible.

And, while I am monitoring these things at all times, I can’t ask everyone I know to be constantly thinking about them all the time, too. So, there’s always little surprises that crop up. Birthday parties hosted at the beach. Trips planned exclusively around sunbathing at some tropical location. Destinations that require a heavy amount of walking on a day that my joints just happen to not be cooperating. A spontaneous suggestion on a day where I’ve already spent that day’s dosage of energy. And, always, egregious germ maintenance and disregard for hand washing. Which isn’t to say those things are all bad. People should have their fun. It’s just sometimes lonely to be the only one making these mental calculations.

So, oddly, my stress levels have been a lot lower throughout COVID. All of a sudden, everyone is washing their hands. A lot more events are being planned inclusively with virtual options. There are exciting takeout options for the days that my body isn’t up for a big restaurant to-do. All of a sudden, way more of the country is on board with making sure I (and others with limitations) can join in the fun while staying safe. I don’t have to ask. People, now concerned about their own well being and the well being of their community, are naturally making safer, more inclusive decisions.

But, they cannot fathom the blatant disregard their fellow citizens are having for following the rules. They can’t inhabit the headspace where others would just disregard the lived experiences of others so that they can continue to drink cocktails, try new fusion restaurants, drink a few pints, or take that unnecessary trip to Cancun. They can’t understand why bosses aren’t accommodating for burn out. For Zoom fatigue. Why the standards haven’t been adjusted to accommodate their increasingly precarious headspace.

A woman wearing a blazer puts a mask on her face
A woman wearing a blazer puts a mask on her face

I’m not saying these people are wrong. I totally agree. But what I’m saying is this — what if you extended that mindset beyond COVID?

What if, when we get a vaccine, you continue to fight this hard for safety, care, and inclusivity?

And by inclusivity, I mean a lot of things.

Restaurants with spacious aisles that can easily accommodate wheelchairs and people of all sizes. That have chairs and not booths.

A culture of hand washing and readily available hand sanitizer.

Social events and meal choices that are available to people who can’t readily leave the house.

Spaces that are calm and quiet for people who are sensitive to stimulus.

Spaces that are safe for everyone, regardless of their race, gender identity, or sexuality.

Grace for people who have to cancel due to social anxiety.

Using closed captioning on media and having ASL translators at events.

Multiple language options in general at events and on media.

Mindfulness about accessibility when planning outings.

Sensitivity around dietary restrictions and allergies.

Creating breaks in the schedule for nursing mothers.

And so on.

And when engaging in this inclusivity, doing so with an open heart and a genuine commitment to the well being of the community, not a well-meaning smile covering a not-so-hidden resentment of having to make your event “less fun.”

All that is to say — it’s not a shock that a good portion of people are choosing their own comfort, fun, and desire for adventure over the well-being and safety of the community at large. Even with lupus, I often do it, too. But, I implore you (and myself) to take that rage and funnel it into a long-term commitment to inclusivity and overall care for the community.

It should probably not be the case that some people feel more safe, more cared for, and more welcome during a national pandemic.

Now, imagine this future. We have a COVID vaccine. The curve has actually flattened. And, despite it all, we are not returning to “normal.” Instead, we’re doing better.

PhD in English with a focus on film/television. Thoughts on lupus/chronic illness, body image, & academic/post-academic life.

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