It has been 249 days—and counting—since my daughter’s school district sent her home for what was supposed to be two weeks. In the time since then, we have ordered 15 cloth masks, eaten nearly 700 (!) meals at home, taken at least 100 socially distanced walks, somehow completed dozens of weeks of virtual schooling, learned the names of way too many Black people killed by police, endured more “I hate the coronavirus and I want to see my friends” meltdowns than I can count, vented in dozens of virtual therapy appointments (her and me), had an untold number of heart palpitations (me), taken sooooo many thyroid hormone-replacement pills (me again), refilled the diffuser with calming lavender multiple times (my kid), and narrowly missed a handful of panic attacks (you already know).
Know what we haven’t done a single time? Carried on like everything is “normal.” Here’s why:
We care about our community.
We know that the novel coronavirus loves to jump from person to person and that there are simple things we can do to keep ourselves out of that chain. So we wear masks every time we leave the house and cross the street or step into a driveway when we see someone running on the sidewalk; we keep six feet between us and folks in the checkout line at the grocery store and try to grant everyone we encounter the grace that we know it takes to survive in a trying situation.
We know that we are among the hardest hit.
The COVID Racial Data Tracker collects race and ethnicity data from around the country. The data shows us that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are the most likely to have contracted COVID-19 this year, that deaths are increasing among the Latinx population and that Black people are the most likely to die from the illness. To date in the U.S., we have lost at least 45,085 Black lives to COVID-19, accounting for fully 1 in 5 deaths where race is known. That means we are dying at 2.3 times the rate of our white counterparts.
We know this isn’t a “new normal.”
The disproportionately high infection and death rates of people of color are not because the coronavirus has an affinity for melanated skin. Experts attribute the disparity to systemic inequity that disadvantages people who have not been let into Whiteness. That inequity looks like barriers to care like lack of insurance and testing sites being more likely to be located in white neighborhoods. It looks like being overrepresented in jobs that don’t come with paid sick days. It also looks like chronic health conditions like diabetes, sickle cell disease, and heart disease—all of which disproportionately strike Black people—and all of which put folks at increased risk of severe cases of the COVID-19.
We have lost people.
To us, the 241,808 people who have died from this virus in the United States as of the moment I’m typing this are not just numbers. They are my auntie’s bestie, whom she’s been glued to since childhood. My linesister’s auntie whom she never missed an opportunity to visit. My friend’s cousin and uncle whom she’d just visited before the pandemic closed outside. They are people we’ve prayed with before breast cancer surgery. People we’ve laughed and danced with at barbecues. People who were, and still are, deeply loved and are no longer walking around on this earth. To act like everything is normal would be to say they died in vain and to put even more people at risk. My parents have two of the conditions on the CDC’s list of chronic conditions that put folks at higher risk; I don’t want to add them to this list.
We know the numbers are going up.
On November 11, the U.S. recorded more than 140,500 new cases of the virus, making that day a new record high. And more than 1,100 people died that day. And models show the infection and death rates are on track to increase through the winter. This is not a thing that is going to quietly go away because we are exhausted from being continuously vigilant.
We know that death isn’t the only consequence.
There is still a lot we don’t know about how COVID-19 impacts people long term, but what we do know is not comforting. Many people report fatigue, shortness of breath, a persistent cough, headaches and joint pain for weeks and even months after they have “recovered” from the illness. The Mayo Clinic reports that images of the heart post-infection reveal lasting damage to the heart muscle in people whose COVID-19 symptoms were classified as mild; this could put them at risk for future heart disease. It can also cause the blood to clot abnormally, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes—the clots also appear to impact the kidneys, liver, legs and lungs. The pneumonia associated with the illness can also cause long-term damage to the lungs in the form of scar tissue that can negatively impact breathing forever. The disease has even been known to cause strokes, and experts think it may increase risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease—which already impacts Black elders at an disproportionate rate.
The coronavirus may be creating millions of survivors whose lives are forever changed by chronic disease. My home will continue to quarantine until we can be sure dropping our guard won’t contribute to those numbers.