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Coronavirus Superheroes

In the sci-fi, post-apocalyptic thrillers we humans tend to hate to love and love to hate, no one ever knew it was coming. No one ever knew why it happened so fast, or why we were so ill-prepared.

Suddenly, the camera pans far right to the survivors who are left dazed and confused, wondering how it all happened so quickly — overnight, even.

We were told not to worry.

I’m pretty fond of the cliché, “Not all heroes wear capes.” It symbolizes the fact that many heroes do their work sight unseen, their identities unknown.

So you wanna be a hero? Great! Now’s the time.

I and millions of others with underlying health conditions — including elderly people and immunosuppressed folks, as well as health care workers — are counting on YOU to don your invisible cape and save the most vulnerable.

Because that’s what heroes do. Duh.

If you’re healthy, your job right now is to save the world. No pressure, right?

A Message That Bears Repeating

I know you’re tired of people telling you it’s your responsibility to reduce cases and slow the spread of COVID-19. What a burden, right? Because if you’ll “only experience mild symptoms,” why would you even care about getting a little sick for a few days?

No biggie, right?

Well, that’s a bit of an ableist mindset, if I’m being honest.

People like me exist. People with underlying health conditions with a greater risk of complications and death by COVID-19. We can’t always protect ourselves from your vector-borne self, and our immune systems can’t fight the same virus the way your body can. If you decide to carry on with life as usual and brush up against us when we’re picking up medication at the pharmacy, guess what? If you’re an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19, you might as well have just killed us.

We’re Living the Script

We’ve watched this movie we’re living so many times before. We are now living the script, people. Since the coronavirus reached the U.S. last month, I have been on the front lines with a handful of other chronic disease and disability advocates and organizations in obtaining and disseminating critical, lifesaving information to our communities.

Panic gripped those of us in the disability community weeks ago as we watched that bell curve rise based on well-reasoned calculations by scientists.

“Flatten the curve,” they said.

“Don’t worry!” politicians said.

“Too late,” COVID-19 replied.

Is it too soon to say, “told you so?”

I began getting overwhelmed Friday, March 6, frustrated with the lack of care shown to my community as public messaging centered solely around the common message, “Don’t worry, only the people who can’t fight it will die; most will experience mild symptoms.”

“Don’t panic, the risk is low.”

Don’t panic, the risk is low? For whom, exactly?

No biggie, but this is literally a life or death matter for us. We rely on the general public to be responsible in their actions to prevent the catastrophic spread of disease.

The risk is not low for us.

Yet, in other ways, we sick and disabled folks are the best prepared for a pandemic. Digital, remote work is something we’re good at, after all. We’re accustomed to being home more than out in public due to immunosuppressed bodies and an inaccessible society. We regularly say our best friends are internet strangers because it’s easier to be connected with online friends from our beds, where we find ourselves more than we’d like.

Many of us gloat that, somehow, we were made to survive a pandemic with our standard stash of medications, masks, hand sanitizer, and our uncanny ability to stay home — because we’ve had a lot of practice doing that.

How to Be a Superhero in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Caught your attention? Don’t wanna be a vector? Then be a vector-borne hero (VBH) instead.

This is your chance for eternal glory! It’s your time to shine!

Surely by now you’ve read or seen the #FlattenTheCurve hashtag or news articles. So, VBH, it’s time to do your part to flatten the curve.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to:

  • Stock up on food, medicine, cat food, gas, and other things you need to be home for extended times.
  • Cancel gatherings and stay home unless you absolutely have to leave.
  • Allow employees to work from home, if possible, and consider paid time-off policies to support those who are unable to work or whose hours have been cut.
  • Offer resources/support to poor/immunosuppressed/elderly/remote/disabled neighbors.
  • Remain 6 feet (I prefer 10 feet) away from people. No more handshakes or hugs or even elbow bumps.
  • Primary care providers and medical specialists, try appointments via telehealth, if possible.
  • Schools, use technology to both support your community and remain connected; and for goodness sake, have a plan to support poor students who have nowhere to go or nothing to eat.
  • Bunker down. Don’t go anywhere unless it is vital. Maintain social distancing, wash your hands, etc. The goal here isn’t just to keep from getting the virus yourself. The goal is to slow its spread, because the health care system can’t handle a sudden and severe surge of cases needing hospitalization.
  • Don’t tell people with legitimate health concerns to stop worrying. Worrying is normal; silencing shouldn’t be.
  • Finally, understand that you have a personal responsibility to slow the spread, especially to vulnerable groups.

Oh, and you also need to hear this. Even if you don’t get COVID19, the ripple impacts will impact you.

What if you get in a car accident and need life-saving surgery, but the surgeons don’t have the capacity to save you because they’re choosing who lives and who dies with Xs on foreheads? Would you like to buy things? Eat? Fix a broken toilet? Have functioning utilities? Get your trash collected?

Markets and workplaces have to be open for that to work. The more people get sick, the more markets and businesses — even critical ones — will close. And the more people get sick, the more the production lines will suffer and … voila, now you can’t buy milk anymore. Or get a plumber to fix your busted toilet that exploded poop everywhere, because she’s in the hospital with COVID19. Or safely dispose of household trash.

Get my point?

It’s Time to Act — By Not Acting

Containment isn’t possible

The risk isn’t low

It’s time to act by … not acting. By staying in and not showing your face for a while.

Not all heroes wear capes. Right now that means that the simplest way to be a hero right now is by, well, not doing anything. The best thing to do is to not do.

That will enable a smaller surge at peak infection.

That will mean health care workers aren’t as overwhelmed.

That will mean more respirators, ventilators, and beds for COVID19 patients who need them.

That will mean less severe long-term impacts on the whole world.

That will mean the ripple effects will have fewer waves and tentacles.

As I wrote in another essay, we cripples are here to save you from yourselves.

We’re here to ring the alarm bells and remind you of what’s to come. We’re here to do the panicking for you; we began weeks ago. Why? Because we have legitimate reasons to be afraid. And because we know what needs to be done to move things in a safer direction — for everyone.

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