Coronavirus has revealed deep inequities in our society. The fact that millions of people have no paid sick leave at a time when public health officials are urging those who are sick to stay home from work is just one of them.
It’s already challenging to cope with this crisis for people who have secure jobs, stable housing, and financial cushions for difficult times. It’s another situation entirely for people who are homeless, or have no health insurance, or depend on school lunches to stave off hunger, or are afraid to access services because of their immigration status.
Everyone’s health, safety, and wellbeing are dependent on the health, safety, and wellbeing of others. When we protect those who are most vulnerable, we protect our society as a whole. –Prevention Institute Strategic Framework
The way we respond to the coronavirus crisis will show who we are as a society. Every decision that we make in the coming days—at every level of society, from the federal government down to the individual—will have repercussions for how this pandemic unfolds. Therefore, we must all think of one another and especially about those on whom this epidemic will fall most heavily. Anyone who was skeptical about the claim that we’re only as healthy as the least healthy person among us has surely now come to understand how their lives are intertwined with everyone else’s.
Many forward-thinking organizations and individuals are leading the way with actions that prioritize equity and underline interconnectedness:
- National public health organizations, including Prevention Institute, are calling on Congress, the Trump Administration, and state legislators to pass paid sick leave legislation in response to the coronavirus, so that low-wage workers have the ability to support public health measures without putting their families’ economic security at risk.
- San Jose and San Francisco are moving legislation to prevent the eviction of tenants who have lost wages because of coronavirus-related closures and work stoppages.
- Detroit has restored water service to residents whose water had been disconnected because of unpaid bills.
Companies that previously did not provide paid sick leave—like Darden Restaurants the parent company of Olive Garden, and other chain restaurants—have changed their policies over the last few days.
- Social justice organizations and activists have organized support for local Chinatowns throughout the US, which have seen business plummet because of xenophobia and racism. Coronavirus is not a “foreign” virus and calling it that only increases the likelihood of attacks on people who are perceived to be in this category.
- Public health departments that have been severely underfunded for decades are stepping in to do everything they can to ensure a healthy public, and we depend on their scientific advice to understand how we can help to slow transmission of the virus.
We applaud and appreciate these efforts and know that in time we’ll all need to work together to develop solutions that go beyond this public health crisis or even the next one. We—as a society—designed the systems that shape our lives and determine our opportunities to be healthy. And that means we can redesign them to produce health instead of illness, and to reduce rather than exacerbate inequities.