Social Responsibility Meets Self Fulfillment in the Time of a Pandemic

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Today is May 23, 2020. My small sliver of the world has stalled due to COVID-19 for 71 days, and I count the losses daily. Not the dead; I compile the losses of the world that are less easy to calculate than bodies, that are small and big and equally devastating.

Holding and being held, playdates, prom, picnics, non-emergency medical treatment, ease, trust, basketball in the park, clasping hands, smiles, physical school, mourning in community, choir, church, sharing of food, group dancing, going to the beach. 

There is a struggle that has become more and more prominent in my life as the days of quarantine go by. It is the question of “How do I live my life?” A mundane musing that has taken on new weight in this time of a pandemic. Now it is a full-blown battle in my brain. On one side there are the mind, science, societal beliefs. That COVID-19 is a significant threat to human existence and we must follow an arsenal of public health procedures for safety. On the other side is morality. How much are we going to restrict our lives in order to not die, and is that healthy? I see it in a different way too, that my mind is communicating my base human desires, to live a little more carefree, to be spatially intimate with my friends and community members. And on the side of morality is a moral responsibility. To one’s community, to the healthcare system, to the world. 

The virus is shining a stark light into all of the fissures of America’s systems, a light so bright it’s ugly. Our systems for economics, housing, healthcare, criminal justice, and food are not functioning for the benefit of all people, instead only for a few. 

Black and brown communities are affected by the virus at grossly disproportionate rates. Data from early April 2020 in Milwaukee County, Wis., shows that 69 percent of the county’s deaths from COVID-19 were African Americans, who only account for 27 percent of the total population.

In New York City, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities are continually harassed and brutalized by the police department for not social distancing, when the same police handed out masks to white people who flocked to city parks by the hundreds. As of May 4, 40 people in the city had been arrested for violating social distancing orders. Thirty-five of those 40 were not white.[2] At immigration detention centers 1,201 people have tested positive for the virus, which is a 50.2 percent positive rate for all tests done in detention facilities.[3] In these facilities appropriate healthcare is rare and there is no space to physically distance. Some prisons are refusing to provide employees with paid sick leave, creating an environment where sick or exposed individuals will continue to work when they should be quarantined because they can’t afford to.[4] Everyone is instructed to stay home for everything except essential activities, but what about homeless people who are without the “place” part of shelter in place? Working-class families and small business owners are struggling to pay rent and feed their families, while the government continues to funnel billions of dollars into corporations. It is expected that mental health issues associated with lockdown will cause the suicide rate to go up in 2020 and in subsequent years. These injustices are not new, they are only now being shown to the world in a different light.

Meanwhile, environmentalists revel in the newly-clear water of Venice’s canals, cities temporarily freed from smog and the drop in emissions from air travel. These are beautiful things, but they come at a great cost and are clearly not long term solutions. Those for whom normalcy is comfortable are longing for a return. Normalcy seems to be the worst thing we could do right now. I hope that instead, this will be a collective shift towards climate action, affordable healthcare and housing, an end to police brutality, and white supremacy. 

So I return to the present moment, and to my own inner battle of mind and morality. I believe that COVID-19 is something to be taken seriously. I believe that marginalized communities are at a greater risk. I believe that instead of respecting fear, we should give our attention to the fragility of life around us. I have to account for my own well-being, and for the grief and wrongs and joy of the world. The only way I can move forward is through balance.

[1] UWM report finds ‘disturbing patterns,’ links to racial inequality and segregation in the spread of COVID-19 in Milwaukee. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved May 25, 2020,

[2] Scrutiny of Social-Distance Policing as 35 of 40 Arrested Are Black. New York Times. Retrieved May 25, 2020, 

[3] ICE Guidance on COVID-19. Retrieved May 25, 2020,

[4] Guards: GEO stiffs employees infected with COVID-19. Delco Daily Times. Retrieved May 25, 2020,

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