Life in the Time of COVID-19

by Marcus Bellamy

It’s April 21st, 2020, as I sit down to put my thoughts together. Today, our world is experiencing something that hasn’t been seen in about a century: a worldwide pandemic; the virus known as COVID-19. Due to its invisibility and virulence, millions of people have been infected, spreading the infection without knowing, until it’s too late. People are scared for many reasons, and the “leaders” of America have done very little to effectively support the populace. No one’s story during this time will match another’s, but I would like to share mine with you.

I am a teacher, a husband, and a father of two under the age of two. Until April 20th, my kids were going to daycare. There were claims that strict measures were being taken to ensure no spread of the disease at the daycare, but I never saw proof of this. Furthermore, how can one practice social distancing in a daycare setting? The notion that my children could pick up the virus from any of the staff or other children constantly worried me. My wife and I have already lost two children in miscarriage, so the death of either living child would devastate us.

During the two weeks prior to our departure from daycare, I would frequently ask the staff if there were any plans to close the center. They informed me every time that no directives from the CDC or the state had ordered such businesses to close. One could easily say that childcare is essential, especially to those of us who are also “essential” workers. If only there were a way to provide childcare for everyone.

However, my wife and I both work full time, so to withdraw our kids from daycare would require a reduction in our work hours. We are fortunate to work, together, for a company that covers basic benefits 100% for married couples, but this is only for full-time employees. By cutting back on our available hours, we would move to part-time status, which would remove our access to benefits – primarily, healthcare. Clearly, we were caught in a bind: keep our benefits and increase the risk of our kids (and ourselves) getting sick, or significantly restrict our lifeline to medical professionals during this crisis. It’s such a shame that our healthcare is tied directly to our job, and is one more reason I support Medicare For All.

About a week ago, the CDC declared that everyone who goes to public places should wear a mask. This update pushed us to keep our children at home, since no one at the daycare was following this directive. For about two weeks, we have been talking to our supervisor about the possibility of taking shifts throughout the day without reducing our availability, using sick and vacation time to cover the hours missed. We were fortunate to work for a company that also awarded a full 40 hours of vacation time and 80 hours of sick time to its employees. Despite this, though, we were left with the realization that we could not achieve that goal of alternating our work schedules.

My in-laws live about six hours away. My wife and I talked several times about our going there or their coming here. After discussing the possibility with her parents, we assumed that neither would be possible. Her father, while only working about four hours a day, does not have the freedom to leave work. His work requires him to be accessible for a small community. So, what about our going down there? We have a toddler and an infant; we would basically uproot ourselves for who knows how long, and that just wouldn’t work for our kids. We felt defeated, as I’m sure many parents do during this time. But we were lucky. My mother-in-law made the trip to our home, so that she could watch our kids while we continued to work.

I buried my grandmother on April 21st of this year. It was a weird funeral. She was loved and known by hundreds of people, but the only ones who could be present for her memorial service were her children and grandchildren. Some of us couldn’t even see her during her last days; her nursing home was on complete lockdown, but was generous enough to allow two people at a time into the room. That being said, my wife and I didn’t want to risk spreading or catching the virus. One of my cousins wasn’t even allowed past the checkpoint because he had a temperature of 102 degrees. It was 82 degrees in Tennessee and he ran from his car to the front office. Naturally, he’d be running hot.

Being at the memorial service was uncomfortable. My instincts told me to keep my distance from family, but my heart couldn’t bear to avoid comforting my aunts, uncles, mother, and grandfather. It has been seven days; my family and I don’t seem to be any worse for wear, so I assume we’re okay.

I walked into this pandemic expecting to be working less, but that has not been the case at all. My workplace picked up six new students after we transitioned to full online teaching, and at least one person was out sick every day for two weeks. The frustrating part about this is that the ones who have not been at work lately are known for this, well before a pandemic came to our country. That may paint me as an asshole, but it is very challenging to fulfill my work duties when the schedule keeps changing because someone has again shirked their responsibilities.

The politicking that’s going on enrages me. For three years, we have had an incompetent president prove time and time again that he is incapable of leading this country. Now that we are in a pandemic (during an election year, no less!), he epitomizes the political practices he has set for himself: lie, deflect criticism, repeat Fox News misinformation, and praise himself. It is obvious that he doesn’t care about you or me. It is ridiculous that we have a president with such thin skin, one upheld by Fox News that offers, “Real News. Real Honest Opinions.” Opinions are not news; facts are.

We live in an upside-down world. Real people are seeing the cracks in society. But for some reason, many folks find comfort in  the lies, falsehoods, and ostentation spewed out by an orange demagogue who waves his tiny hands around, claiming to speak the truth. People are dying from COVID-19, poverty, a lack of medical care, substance abuse, and domestic abuse. And the world keeps spinning. People are dying, and the rich keep winning. 

The time has come to end this economic genocide. The richest people in our country and the politicians in their pockets have shown that what they see in us, the people,is nothing more than accumulating figures and percentages of usefulness. They are only concerned with sucking profit out of the sweat of our labor. So many people scrape by in jobs that serve other people, and don’t get much in return. Many have no sick time accumulated and zero benefits. I don’t give a damn if the cashier at Taco Bell or a cook at McDonald’s is a high schooler or a veteran – they are humans –  and Americans, and they all – we all – deserve better. 

Capitalism dictates that you earn what you work for, that your financial value is measured solely by the importance of your occupation. The workers who save people on a daily basis, and who are currently praised as heros, are often underpaid. The greeters at Wal-Mart get food stamps because they are not paid fairly; in turn, they are slandered as a drain on our society. And people who don’t do much, but sit on a pile of money they stole from hard working people, get millions of dollars and praise for their hard work. That is so ridiculous as to be fictional, but this is a current reality. However, it doesn’t have to be like this. 

Are you afraid of socialism? Does the word strike fear into your heart as you recall the days when red-blooded Americans fought against Socialism and its cousin Communism? Why? The problem with these is not where they come from, but who runs the operation. In so many cases, they are run by corrupt politicians. Money and power were their concerns, not the rights of human beings. But we could do real socialism, the kind that puts human beings first.  

Socialist ideas could fix this country right now. Mandated sick leave for all workers would allow for people to take time off so they can recover from whatever illness, and so they don’t spread it to their co-workers or customers. I will say that I am fortunate to work for a place that offers benefits, vacation time, and sick leave. But even so, it shouldn’t be necessary for someone to work 90 days for healthcare and, only if after that preliminary period, maintain a full-time schedule. Most Americans have their healthcare tied to an occupation; losing a job means losing a doctor’s visit, or insulin, or a life-saving procedure. We need Medicare for All. Universal healthcare would allow people to go to a doctor and find out what’s wrong, without the burden of losing a large portion of their monthly income to find out they have a cold that just needs to pass. 

If you read that and think, “Well, people are going to take advantage of those liberties,” so what?! People are taking advantage of the system right now. There will always be people who find loopholes and shortcuts, but you can’t do much about their actions. That shouldn’t stop us from helping the majority. Why do we think, “I can’t let them have it better than me?” I think it’s because we are so afraid of losing what we have that we aren’t willing to sacrifice anything for another person. This scarcity mentality doesn’t benefit anyone. Yet we continue to go to work, pay our dues, and unwittingly give up what is ours, our time and effort, to people sitting at the top who reap the real benefits of our labor – while the rest of us inadvertently suffer. It’s time for a change. Let’s end this social distancing with socialism and put a cap on capitalism. 

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