Who’s Left Behind When “Everyone’s Going to Get COVID”

by Ariela Paulsen
Who’s Left Behind When “Everyone’s Going to Get COVID”

This Tuesday, President Biden addressed the nation – maskless, and in front of his largest in-person audience in over a year.  His message was clear, that we have turned a corner in the pandemic.  Even before his speech, the swift rise and fall of the milder Omicron variant changed how many Americans think about the virus.  A hope has caught on that we are reaching the point when COVID-19 becomes endemic, meaning enough people have strong enough immunity that the case numbers are lower and more stable.  

We all need this hope.  For many of us, this has been the toughest two years of our lives.  We need to believe that this disaster is almost over, that we can resume our lives without fear or guilt.  For people who are healthy, abled, young, and vaccinated, the risks now are remarkably low!  For many, it is the time to return to normalcy and find peace from the constant worry.

For others – sick, disabled, elderly, or too young to be vaccinated – this peace of mind may not yet be possible.

I have seen this dissonance cropping up in the communication of people around me.  My abled, healthy friends without children expressing frustration when asked to quarantine before visiting higher-risk relatives.  My immunocompromised friends feeling despair that their employers are now expecting them in-person without mask mandates.  One friend with chronic illness confiding that people could understand her being careful on her son’s account but were much more judgemental when she acted out of fear of her own health; she’s afraid that when he’s old enough to be vaccinated she is going to have to revisit those triggering conversations with relationships she’d only just repaired.  On social media, I’ve seen posts proclaiming that “we’re all going to get it, so just live your life!” followed by a barrage of pained and angry comments.  I had a student ask me about a post she saw, likening that statement to eugenics.  

And I get it! All of it. I get the push to move on.  The fear of change.  The anxiety of being high-risk.  The weight of making decisions not only for yourself but for young children and aging members of your household.  When your whole life has been filled with messaging akin to “your disability makes you less valuable to society” or “your safety is not worth my inconvenience,” then yes, statements of hope can start to feel like eugenics propaganda.

There is no clear right or wrong here, no simple answers or solutions that I can offer.  I simply offer that we hold onto compassion and empathy for where each of us is existing right now.  The right answer for you may be dangerous for me, and my outlook might be a source of deep distress for you.  But both are our lived realities!  

I hope we can all accept these dissonances, or better yet, lean into them.  As a music student in college, I remember learning about musical dissonance, when two notes are not the same but close enough together that instead of harmonizing, they create discomfort in both sound and the vibration of sound waves jostling in the air.  If dissonance is included in a piece of music and you try to skip through it quickly, it leaves the listener unsettled and sounds like a mistake was made.  If you linger in the dissonance, leaning in with emotion and volume until finally resolving, it can be a deeply powerful moment.  If we can lean in and feel how our approaches are different, I think we will find that they hurt because we are coming from such similar places of exhaustion, loneliness, and fear.  Our resolution, I believe, will come in making space for each of us to affirm our differences while validating the experiences that brought us to those outcomes.

For anyone struggling to find empathy right now, here are some stories that may help you understand where others may be coming from:

As always, here’s to kindness and good communication.  We are Mightier Together!

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