“It is a bit bizarre. The divisiveness that’s going on…” U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci stated during a White House interview in July of 2020. We’ve got to own this, reset this and say, ‘OK, let’s stop this nonsense. We’ve got to do better.’”
Covid-19 has indeed produced a sense of separation among the community’s many members. In Colorado, an estimated 383,500 individuals, or 8.6%, indicate they will most likely refuse the vaccination. Because they do not trust the COVID-19 vaccination in particular, 6.2 percent of all persons in the state will decline, and 4.4 percent do not feel COVID-19 is a serious worry, and 5.7% because they distrust the government. Albert, a 68-year-old grandfather and father of four children, met with me at a local park to discuss his experiences in this regard. He is a former Air Force officer who, in addition to his active activities in his church, likes playing and teaching chess in his leisure time. He is conflicted about the political atmosphere during the pandemic and how it has impacted his religious ties. Albert talks about his church experiences and how many members of his congregation have chosen to forego vaccines and masks because of their political affiliation. “My wife caught COVID and she is still experiencing lingering symptoms, 6 months later. I know how scared I was when she was hospitalized and how real this virus is.”
Many people, not only those with religious affiliations, have encountered similar challenges in their interactions with others. Many have found it ironic that while the most prominent white conservative Christians have said little in support of racial justice, they have cried foul about the relatively minor inconveniences like mask-wearing in the face of the pandemic. “I still go to service every Sunday”, Albert states, “but I’ve decided to leave the topic of the virus out of my conversations.”
The Covid-19 epidemic has also prompted many hardworking citizens to make difficult judgments for their personal health as well as the health of those around them. Jeremy is a 24-year-old line cook for a mall-based franchise restaurant. He works nights and weekends while also going to a trade school three days a week to pursue his dream of becoming a motorcycle technician. Jeremy claims that he worked during the epidemic, exposing himself to the public on a daily basis, until recently testing positive for coronavirus. “To be honest, I thought I would never catch it.” Jeremy recalled. Unfortunately, Jeremy began experiencing symptoms on October 14th, 2021, precisely two weeks after the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) cut-off date of September 30th, 2021. He expresses his displeasure with the policy changes, asking aloud, “Coronavirus didn’t end on September 30th, so why did paid leave end?”
The Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) went into effect on April 1, 2020, granting workers paid family and medical leave for COVID-19 quarantine requirements (or needing to care for a child or family member experiencing symptoms or quarantining). After this policy expired, the ARPA was enacted to provide tax relief for organizations that pay them for the expense of giving paid sick and family leave to their staff related to COVID-19. This has since terminated and employers are now focusing on incentives for their employees to become fully vaccinated.
As Jeremy chews his lo-mien in the mall food court, he recalls the phone call he had with his HR department after learning of his positive test results. “I assumed they’d look after me.” Instead of compensating him for sick leave, his HR director told him that he would have to stay home for 10 days without pay from the onset of symptoms before returning with documentation of a negative test result. The issue with this situation is that many others, like Jeremy, who are combining low-paying jobs and full-time education, cannot afford to miss out on a paycheck. He acknowledged that he felt better after only four days. “I wish I hadn’t found out I had the virus so I could have just gone back to work.” The end of ARPA appears to have created this quandary for many citizens: lose out on salary or return to work before completing a full quarantine to possibly expose others.
Among divisiveness and policies regarding sick leave, another looming topic surrounding the pandemic is that of mental health. Melissa is a 42 year-old mother of two daughters, one in in junior high, and one a senior in high school. Melissa, who goes by the nickname of “Missy”, met to speak of her experiences related to these trying times over coffee in her dining room. She works as a freelance Airbnb housekeeper, and her husband works as a field technician for an engineering firm. She says that the epidemic has affected her family in a variety of ways, both monetarily (her husband has had to miss work early on during the pandemic when road construction came to a brief halt) and in terms of wellbeing. Most importantly, increased stress has had a significant impact on her family’s mental health in a number of ways. “My eldest daughter has been debating whether she should attend school in person or virtually. She misses her friends, but she also despises the idea that her whole graduating class has seen the inside of her bedroom via virtual classroom meetings.”
Many more students throughout the world are facing the same issue, as fears about being infected with the virus in the school halls as the Delta strain increases are widespread, and they must also consider their time management. “Structural conditions, such as having only one room serving as both bedroom and study, complicated the situation,” according to a study conducted for Parisian students, and others included the importance of discipline and “expressed difficulties in concentrating and maintaining the necessary motivation for distance learning” as issues surrounding remote learning.
With the continual issue of political viewpoints surrounding the epidemic intruding their everyday chats, Missy‘s marital climate has suffered as well. “We’re mostly on the same page, but we argue often because he believes I’m adhering to the government’s aim to control us by willfully wearing my mask.” Political squabbles have multiplied tenfold during the epidemic, and with facts about the pandemic sometimes in doubt, reasoned discussions might seem few and far between. A study from November of 2020 states “In the U.S., sales of online self-help divorce agreements rose by 34% this spring compared to last year, and family lawyers surveyed in April and July reported a 25% to 35% increase in requests to start divorce proceedings compared to the same time in 2019.”
Her brother’s suicide is the most heartbreaking way Missy’s family’s mental health has been harmed since the outbreak of the pandemic. She feels that his sadness was aggravated by isolation, along with recollections of a tragic experience, which led to his regrettable choice. “One day, I’m having a weekly phone call with him, and then a week later, I receive a call from his wife saying he took his own life.” The CDC has claimed what most would have unfortunately anticipated, that surveys post-pandemic onset “have shown substantial increases in self-reported behavioral health symptoms.” Several factors influence reasons that individuals have not sought out professional help, including stay-at-home orders and ignorance on how to access treatment.Missy‘s one lesson from this tragic incident is that she now wants to promote the necessity of seeking help when required. “I tell my girls that there is no reason that anyone should have to live with thoughts of suicide on their own. Mental well-being is just as vital as physical well-being. Speak with someone. Anyone. There is so much more to look forward to. So many people are waiting to love you.”
One thing is certain in the middle of all the misunderstanding and debate around the pandemic. No one could have imagined how long this problem would last or what obstacles we would encounter as a result, but individuals must come to the agreement that we do not need to cease supporting one another because of social distancing.