COMMENTARY: A bitter pill to swallow

by Jun 12, 2020OPINIONS





Nobody likes being quarantined; particularly if you are not sick. It is one thing to have an infectious illness and be isolated to prevent a disease from infecting other people. It is a whole other thing to be isolated from work, school, friends and even family because of the possibility that you may or may not have a bug that could kill a population. But, here we are. 

COVID-19 has been an unexpected, life-altering event. Not in my lifetime has there been a country-wide quarantine of the populous. Emergency orders bordering on Martial law have been imposed. The Army Corps of Engineers has been pressed into service to build hospitals. Over 28,000 National Guard troops have been pressed into action in almost half of the states in the United States to assist in response. Private companies have converted operations from domestic retail to medical products. Car manufactures are building ventilators, face shields, cloth masks. Governors are making deals with other countries to get rubber gloves and other essential protection equipment. In some cities, hospital and critical care staff are working around the clock to care for COVID patients in addition to the thousands of other medical needs of the citizenry. 

Some of the most oppressive restrictions on travel have been imposed worldwide. From business and tourism travel, to travel to the grocery store, things have changed. There may be a “new normal” to deal with for months and years to come. 

Economically, it is hard to imagine any other challenge that could have so dramatically devastated the ability of the country to operate. No travel means no income. “Social distancing” means no congregating for eating, entertainment, and worship. Even the ability to work has been curtailed, causing tens of millions to file for unemployment. Emergency funds have been issued to a large portion of the populous just to help sustain them and to “stimulate” the economy. The problem with issuing a stimulus check for the economy is that you need an economy to stimulate. 

Even on the Qualla Boundary, where we are more financially isolated than some places, we have not been immune to economic impact that has resulted in not only temporary closings, but permanent ones. When a business must close, even temporarily, bills continue to come in. If a business owner is on lease property or paying for property, the monthly payments do not stop coming because you are closed. The rent, the electric bill, the equipment payments, and any other maintenance cost either must be paid or delayed. Notice that companies are not offering payment forgiveness, just payment deferment. 

New labels have evolved to identify our communities in the nation. We are either “essential” or “non-essential” and we are either celebrated or disparaged based on our designation. Anger, violence, and calls for prosecution erupt when someone refuses to participate in “flattening the curve”. Exercise of basic civil rights are looked upon as evil by those who fear the spread of COVID-19. 

Common sense and common courtesy measures are ignored and abused in ignorance. The CDC and associated governmental advisors initially indicated that masks did nothing to protect the wearer from COVID and should not be worn because the supply was needed for healthcare providers. Then, when the strain on demand eased and mask supplies increased, the medical community advised that it was a good idea to wear masks not to protect yourself necessarily, but to protect others. 

So, I say to self, “Self, be a good citizen and wear a mask when you are out because it protects others.” As I make my supply runs to Lowes, Walmart, and grocery stores over the three months of the COVID emergency, I notice that the large majority of people are not wearing masks, nor are they in any particular hurry to social distance, as I witnessed an entire family invade a gentleman’s personal space at the Deli counter of my local Ingle’s. As he would try to step back from them, they would press forward. Logically, if the medical community says that I am protecting others when I wear a mask, then what am I to think of those who come to an “essential” gathering place maskless? 

Even if you don’t believe the medical community, do you think about what it says to your neighbor when you do things that they think might jeopardize their health? I have worn mine because I want to send that message. I care about others so I will tolerate that mask. I even had my sister-in-law make me a comfortable one so I don’t leave home without it. 

In Phase Two of reopening in North Carolina and at the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, we are beginning to see the long-range impact of COVID-19. Ramping industry back up and rebuilding revenue streams may be a years’ long process. Community faith in health safety will be a staggered process and will be based on individuals deciding when they are comfortable resuming “normal” contact with the outside world. 

There is no vaccine for COVID-19. Until there is, there will likely be some form of governmental or societal restriction on human contact. Natural immunity build-up will likely take longer than getting a vaccine, because it is hard for a community to build resistance to something that they are sheltering in place to keep from contracting. And, if restrictions remain in place, economic challenges will also remain. 

National media has been promoting a unity message of “We are all in this together”. I wish it were so. But, I see people, as stated above, showing little or no concern for others as they congregate using no social distancing and taking no preventative measures against COVID. I see rich celebrities in their highly-guarded mansions talking about caring for each other while I watch the homeless and poverty-stricken scramble for food and walk the streets maskless, and having no choice but to huddle together for food and clothing. 

I think our response to the COVID crisis says more about us as a society and has more long-term impact than the virus itself. Federal and state politicians playing the blame game. People being told that they can slow down the spread and save the elderly and chronically ill from a slow and painful death, and those people ignoring the guidelines. People choosing momentary happiness over public safety. Arbitrary regulations stating that, at various stages and for example, institutions like churches are non-essential and legally banned from meeting but the ABC Store has remained open as an essential business throughout the crisis.

Mom used to give me medicine when I was a youngster. Most of it tasted nasty. She would mash the pill into powder and try to put it in sugar water or some other sweet syrup, but it never got rid of the bitter taste of the medicine. The COVID-19 crisis is a bitter pill for us to swallow. It does not matter how media and others try to sugarcoat it. This has been dramatically damaging to our health and our economy. Don’t get me wrong, I realize there are many people out there doing incredible work and acts of selfless kindness. Many are trying to find ways to normalize a truly abnormal situation. Our leaders are not making regulations for the fun of it, because their jobs have been far from fun over the last three months. And, it will likely not be much happier in the next three. It brings no joy to the health professional’s heart to tell the community that life can’t go back to the way it was in 2019 for a while. Enforcement agencies and businesses aren’t gleeful when telling you to wear a mask or restrict where you stand or sit. I just hope that more of us realize that it isn’t the sugarcoating that cures us, it is the bitter pill.