It has been over two months since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States.
Looking back now, it is hard to imagine a time where the thought of the virus being on American soil did not seem like a big deal—where lives continued to go on, sports were played, concerts were performed and vacations were still on people’s calendars.
Yet here we are, two months later, trying to figure out a new normal in a pandemic-ridden world that has gone quiet and made “social distancing” an everyday phrase.
In times of crisis and confusion like this one, it is easy for anxiety to become overwhelming and for people to look for some sense of hope in the darkness.
In looking for that hope, sometimes crises like these have the ability to bring out the best in people. For instance, take a look at New Orleans Pelicans superstar Zion Williamson, who pledged to cover the salaries of employees at the Smoothie King Center for 30 days while the NBA season is suspended, or Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and singer Ciara, who are set to donate one million meals to food banks in Seattle.
For those of us who are not celebrities with wealth to spare, that goodness is seen in the little things, like the willingness to sacrifice a few weeks of freedom to slow the spread of COVID-19, “flatten the curve” and save at-risk lives.
But just as crises have the ability to bring out the best in people, they have the ability to bring out the worst, as seen in a tone-deaf Instagram story from actress Vanessa Hudgens, where the High School Musical star stated that, “even if everybody gets it, like, yeah, people are gonna die, which is terrible, but like, inevitable?”
Hudgens’s attitude is not exclusive to the Hollywood elite. In a viral video from CBS, viewers see a group of spring breakers in Miami talking about how the coronavirus is ruining their plans and they are just going to keep partying because “whatever happens, happens.”
This mindset has not been uncommon since social distancing began to be enforced. Those who possess it often cite the fact that they are healthy individuals who will not fall seriously ill to the virus, so why should they stop living their everyday lives?
Some even go so far as to say that the elderly and ill will die anyway, so why does it matter?
The part of that mindset that states that healthy individuals will likely not fall seriously ill to COVID-19 or die is valid.
The rest of that mindset reveals a disturbing sense of selfish privilege and disregard for human life.
The reality of the coronavirus is that it will not impact some people as severely as it will impact others. So, where does that leave us?
It leaves us with this: those of us who will not see severe impacts need to use our privilege to help those who will see them.
First of all, “social distancing” is not an attempt to strip our rights away. The cancellation of in-person classes is not a vacation. It is not an excuse for us to throw parties with friends and continue to gather in public places for fun because “Who cares? I won’t die.”
Social distancing is the most crucial step right now toward protecting lives. Period. Disregarding social distancing for selfish reasons is disregarding the welfare of human lives: the lives of the elderly, immunocompromised and those with respiratory disorders.
COVID-19 spreads rapidly, and it can spread without a trace of symptoms. The longer selfish ways of thinking and acting continue, the more it will spread. The more it spreads, the longer the world stays on lockdown. And the more it spreads, the more people fall severely ill.
Maybe COVID-19 caused your plans to be canceled. Maybe you had to give up your spring break or your big birthday party. Many of us had to give up significant “lasts” in our lives: championship games, final sports seasons, graduations, senior proms or just final days with our friends before we move on to the next chapter of our lives.
And, yes, losing those “lasts” hurts. It will always hurt.
But it could never compare to the pain of watching a loved one die alone of COVID-19 because no one could be in the room with them for safety reasons. That is the reality some people are living with. That is the reality we are trying to put an end to.
Outside of health factors, there are people who have lost jobs due to business closures. There are people who are now uncertain about their financial status and whether or not they will be able to continue to put food on the table for their families. There are children whose only escape from a difficult home life was school. Now, those children have to remain in an unhealthy environment 24/7 for an unknown amount of time.
There are nurses and doctors wearing themselves down beyond the point of exhaustion in overcrowded healthcare facilities as they fight to provide for the sick and suffering.
Failing to recognize the privilege that healthy people, people with steady employment and people with positive home situations have right now is selfish. This way of thinking dehumanizes the elderly, the ill and the poor. It says that the lives of young, healthy people who want to overcrowd Bourbon Street because they are privileged enough to not be at high-risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms are more important than the lives of nursing home residents.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Albus Dumbledore says, “There will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” For the healthy, the employed, the people with steady home lives, that time is now. Recognize your privilege. Make the right choices. Make the choices that contribute to the good.
Now is the time for realizing that we are all in this fight together. This virus, while devastating, has the potential to bring out the best in humanity. It has the potential, in a world that is so divided and broken, to show us that looking out for our neighbor goes a long way. It has the potential to transform us for good and make us better humans.
Stay home. Only leave your house for necessary reasons, such as work or grocery store runs. Wash your hands. Be kind to restaurant employees and grocery store workers. Support local small businesses. If you have the resources, consider making donations to food banks.
When this pandemic is over and the world finds its new normal once again and we are able to look back on this crisis, would you rather be someone who selfishly and continuously contributed to the escalation of the virus, or would you rather be someone who did everything in their power to look out for the vulnerable?
Do not do what is easy. Do what is right.