Going on 18 months after California's initial statewide stay at home order, SLO County is seeing record numbers once again. As I write, 54 SLO County residents are in the hospital with COVID-19, 18 in the ICU. Across the United States, the daily average for hospitalized COVID-19 patients is now more than 100,000, nearing the same peak of January 2021. But the difference between today and 18 months ago is not just vaccines, it's also our commitment to one another.
I remember the early days of COVID-19, watching closely as our ICU numbers rose day by day. Nationwide, we took action to distance and mask, we learned to homeschool, nurses and doctors carried our communities, businesses scrambled to adapt, and resource agencies dug in to provide desperately needed relief. The first deaths were recorded and we collectively grieved the loss. During those days, even with stay-at-home orders, communities sprung to action to redefine what was possible in building a culture of community care and collaboration for the global good. And tuning in to the needs of our neighbors simultaneously opened a door for deeper understanding of the voices who have long spoken to the racial inequity and economic disparities that have long plagued us. Our differences and inequalities were harder to ignore. And our essential mutual responsibility to the belonging and survival of one another was more evident than before.
But 18 months later, we have seen the return to rugged individualism that Americans so love, and a "business as usual" political posturing that has families suffering, hospitals bursting at the seams, and the same classist, racist policies deprioritizing the health and safety of people of color and marginalized groups. As we resume school, teachers are holding it all together, and children too young to be vaccinated carry the risk where our communities have fallen short. While hospitalization and death from COVID-19 are still considered rare among children, children of color who disproportionately suffer from chronic health conditions and lack of access to health care, are being disproportionately sickened with COVID-19, too. As cases climb once again across America, non-white children were hospitalized three times more often than white children according to the CDC. In every way possible, people of color are being battered by the racial inequity of COVID-19. Meanwhile, county leaders only went so far as "we strongly recommend" masking indoors (that changed on Sept. 1, after I wrote this), our cities and leading organizations struggle to prioritize actually taking action on equity and inclusion, and a segment of the population took to meetings to demand schools "unmask our children!"
The hope we found in one another in the midst of the chaos of 2020 is turning into the apathy of 2021.
When the work of bringing our communities together gets messy and uncomfortable, when our obsession with exceptionalism is threatened, and our systems programmed to covet capitalism begin to suffer, the default has been to return to normal. To a normal where privilege dictates progress and individual gain trumps communal collaboration. A daily life that prioritizes whiteness and that same old comfortable feeling of "normal" that white America is so bound to.
That moment in 2020 when community care rose for the sake of the global good was a window into what is possible when we collectively rise for the sake of others. This is not a time to tread lightly, not a time for moderate leadership or placating self-interested decision makers, not a time to walk away from each other. This is a time to rise together. As Roxane Gay says, "Now is not the time for half-measures. Now is the time for grand gestures and innovative thinking. Now is the time for remembering the social contract and recommitting to the idea of a unified country where we understand how intimately we are all connected. Now is the time for understanding that empathy is infinite if we allow it to be."
We need political will in every seat of leadership, and active participation from neighborhoods and board rooms and bakeries and book clubs. There are no seats for bystanders now. No time to allow our past to dictate our future. No time to wait for someone else to sway a vote or another neighbor to meet the need. When we are waffling and stuck in inaction, fear about what may be can be paralyzing. Stepping into participation, getting off the sidelines and into the arena is the only way forward. One small step, one small but mighty action at a time. Community care is about bringing all that you have got to the table, heaving it up there in the most imperfect and messy way and staying at the table to give and receive and clean it up and do it again tomorrow, together.
If we can't show up for one another now, in the midst of a raging climate emergency, economic crisis, racial reckoning, and a global pandemic that has taken 4.5 million lives worldwide—what exactly are we waiting for? Δ
Quinn Brady (she/her) is a community advocate, organizer, and mother on the Central Coast. Send a response for publication to [email protected].