This pandemic is not a one-way street.
It’s actually more like a seven-way intersection with broken traffic lights and unsavory weather conditions. It’s turbulent, and there are many different things that have contributed to the world going very, very wrong.
People are not just contracting COVID-19 and getting sick for two weeks. Nor are people just contracting COVID and dying. This pandemic is nuanced in ways a lot of us haven’t taken time to sit down and think about thoroughly.
This pandemic has permanently impacted the workforce. It’s affected global trade. It’s affected capitalistic principles that served as the foundation of this country for many centuries. It’s altered education on all levels. According to the International Labour Organization, working hours decreased by 8.8% and labour income declined by 8.3% in 2020. These numbers are not projected to re-stabilize for a while. Even for industries that are recovering, like the trade industry, the pandemic still serves as a barrier for complete recovery.
It’s created too many systemic warps and changes to count, but I want to get personal.
My grandfather, Tom McBride, lived for 96 years. My dad always liked to joke that he would outlive us all.
Tom wasn’t short for anything. He had no middle name. However, he elongated that name to “Thomas” and made it his son’s middle name. His son is my dad.
My grandfather went to college and became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He met my grandmother, an AKA (Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority), and married her. They worked and kept their home together throughout an entire lifetime of segregation and strife.
I didn’t get to see him at all in 2020, due to the pandemic. He and my grandmother both were at extremely high risk of contracting COVID-19, so the family figured it would be best for them to only be seen by their children and some at-home nurse staff.
My grandfather had been considerably healthy for the years leading up to 2020, in spite of his Alzheimer’s Disease. It started when I was about eight or nine years old and rapidly progressed into one of the most severe cases that a lot of people have ever seen. Funny enough, his body remained healthy for a long time as his mind deteriorated.
My grandparents used to attend church every Sunday. They sang in the choir and volunteered. They made dinner for the McBrides every single Sunday. Their home was the host for every holiday gathering we had. They were true patriarchs.
At some point during 2019, I remember my grandfather catching pneumonia. He had to go to the hospital for a little while. He got over it and was back kicking, as per usual. Then in July of 2020, he caught pneumonia again and had to return to the hospital.
When he was admitted to the hospital, it was during a time where COVID was spreading like wildfire.
COVID information was less available, and there were no vaccines. Hospitals were overwhelmed.
My grandfather ended up catching COVID in the hospital. He wasn’t the only one to contract COVID in that way. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Manoj Jain wrote about his experience of treating patients who contracted “nosocomial COVID-19,” or infection acquired in the hospital, for the Washington Post.
I was actually able to speak to Dr. Jain, who is also a clinical associate professor at the University of Tennessee at Memphis and Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta.
He shared that up to 2 percent of people coming in for things like hip fractures, urinary infections, or heart problems already had COVID-19 upon hospital entry.
“They were spreading it to healthcare workers who were then transmitting it to patients,” he said via email. “We had to mask. All healthcare workers weren’t even masking at that point, and the CDC wasn’t recommending it either. Testing came after that.”
My grandfather was an unlucky victim of this 2 percent. COVID killed his lungs, and not long after, it killed him.
I hadn’t seen him at all in 2020. I still haven’t seen him, alive nor dead. Nobody could be in the hospital room with him as he died, and we were not able to hold a service for him due to social distancing guidelines.
There are so many factors that led up to my grandfather’s death. There are so many people that were involved in my grandfather’s death. There are so many people involved in the deaths of the 695,000 people in this country.
The pandemic was handled with general carelessness from the beginning. People refused to wear masks. People still went out and partied. People refused to quarantine. People put themselves and others in danger and allowed COVID to jump around the globe at record speeds.
This irresponsibility landed a lot of people in the hospital. At this point, all those people cared about was surviving. They weren’t thinking about the healthcare workers that they were asking to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to treat them. They weren’t thinking that they were taking an eye for an eye. They weren’t thinking at all.
They weren’t thinking about their families. They weren’t thinking about their parents and grandparents. They weren’t thinking about other people’s families either. They weren’t thinking about my grandfather.
And sure, my grandad was already old. He’d already lived nearly a century and had degenerated a ton from his Alzheimer’s. But he was my grandad. And he didn’t have to die that way. With his lungs failing. With my family having to make the choice not to intubate him and to instead put him out of his misery.
Other people’s grandparents don’t deserve to die that way. Other people’s parents don’t deserve to die that way.
People of all ages, walks of life, and families are dying this way.
Not only are grandparents with pneumonia suffering, premature babies who need oxygen to get them through their first days are suffering. Hospitals don’t have enough oxygen for everyone. Florida’s hospitals were some of the most recent in the country to have this issue. People with chronic illnesses who need regular care from hospitals are suffering. Many of them have weakened immune systems and are, ironically, risking their lives to go to the hospital.
Healthcare workers who endured years of education to help people are suffering. They are having to put their own lives, along with their families’ lives, at risk to care for others and keep them safe and well.
Working-class people are suffering. Many of them don’t have the option to do online work when a crisis keeps us from going into the workplace.
This pandemic negatively affects everyone, and it seems like we have a basic understanding of this as a society. However, our actions have not aligned with that sentiment.
As individuals, it’s our responsibility to take care of ourselves and those around us. We must actively search for solutions to this pandemic. The first solution I propose is us changing our mindset.
We have to be constantly cognizant of the fact that all of our actions affect not only us, but everyone in our networks. And everyone in their networks. So on, so forth.
The government has proven that public health is not the top priority by forcing people back to work, loosening travel and mask restrictions, forcing children back to school, and refusing financial support throughout this time. It’s up to us to look after each other and mitigate the effects of this pandemic.
When we go out while sick, wear our masks improperly, refuse vaccinations, and continue to operate in this world like it’s 2018 normal, we continue to affect people in the worst ways.
Dr. Jain urged that maximum protection and maximum effort is necessary for this pandemic to end.
“I think it’s good that people are wearing masks, but that’s not good enough,” he said. “We need multiple layers of protection to avoid transmitting COVID in the hospital setting. We’ve done it for other infectious diseases, and there is no reason for us to not take similar precautions with COVID.”
While I had Dr. Jain, I had to ask for advice for those who are still wary about the vaccine. This is what he offered.
“We have plenty of evidence that the vaccine is safe. Millions upon millions of doses have been administered. We can see that infection rates go down in areas with high vaccination rates. Our goal is to eliminate community transmission of the virus.”
COVID-19 is not a straight shot. It’s a complicated interworking of problems that will not go away on their own. It is up to us to #StopTheSpread.
For those that are curious, here’s some information on vaccines: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations