The pandemic has been one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. It’s not just showed me the problems underlying many of the systems we once took for granted. It’s also shown me the values of the people around me. While some of what I’ve seen over the last year has left me filled with hope, much of it has reminded me that there’s so much we’ve been taught that could make the world better if only we would learn it.
Public health needs to be prioritized.
As I see more and more people throw out their masks, I’m filled with disappointment. The pandemic is teaching us so much about public health, and we’re just not getting the message. What COVID-19 should be teaching us is that when we’re symptomatic with any illness, we need to wear a mask to protect other people from our germs. It’s a small action we can take as a nod to public health.
Public health is more than just washing our hands and keeping surfaces sanitary. It’s personal space in public places rather than standing on top of each other in lines. It’s considering how we can do our part to prevent the spread of illness — not just in pandemic conditions.
I noticed a drop in illness in my family over the course of the last year because we have faithfully worn our masks in public. Although I believe people should stay home when they are ill, I understand that it’s not always possible to do so — particularly in single parent families when we need to go to the pharmacy or get groceries even when we’re ill. A mask is an easy way to keep our germs to ourselves and help prevent the spread of any illness.
Accessibility should be an industry standard rather than pandemic protocol.
While workplaces and schools have accommodated the need for distance during the pandemic, these accessibility options need to become the industry standard so that those with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses are able to work and attend school without being penalized for having different needs. Perfect attendance is an outdated metric that does not take into account disability, chronic illness, or even public health. The workforce and school system should continue to make these accommodations widely available going forward. Accessibility shouldn’t just be available to the able-bodied but to everybody.
Teachers and healthcare workers are vastly underappreciated and underpaid.
While we’ve always known the importance of these professions, it’s never been more clear that teachers and healthcare workers are more than just essential. They’ve kept us going over the last year. When the pandemic is over, I hope we’ll continue to keep this in mind when we’re dealing with medical and teaching staff. Finding ways to acknowledge and support their work and to advocate for better conditions and higher pay should stay a priority even when the crisis has passed.
Free lunch should be included in the public school system.
Magical government funding appeared to provide free lunch for all children in the public school system during the pandemic. Why aren’t free breakfasts and lunches a standard in our school system? Public funding should remain allocated to this purpose to make sure all children can receive nourishment while they are at school. Not only does this help parents who already shoulder the high costs of raising children, but it also makes sure that every child is getting a balanced, hot meal or two during the day.
Exploitation in the workforce requires our attention and consideration.
While many small businesses are complaining about the lack of help available due to unemployment, what we’re really seeing is the exposure of exploitative working conditions in the country. If unemployment is paying a higher living wage and providing better benefits than an actual job, employers may need to evaluate the way they’re treating workers. Low-paying jobs with inconsistent, variable hours do not meet the needs of the majority of the workforce. There’s also the matter of public health where many workers don’t feel safe coming back into a public workforce if they or someone they love is vulnerable.
Not only do we need a raise in the minimum wage in this country, but we should be evaluating the cost of living and making sure area businesses are prepared to pay a living wage in safe and reasonable working conditions. We should be looking into exploitative work practices even after the pandemic ends and demanding more of big corporations as well as small businesses. For every employer complaining about being unable to find help is a person admitting that they are unwilling to pay a living wage to workers.
Mental health care needs to be both accessible and affordable to all.
For many of us, the last year has been detrimental to our mental health, and yet mental healthcare stays both inaccessible and unaffordable to many. Even online mental health services often refuse to accept insurance and/or price themselves too high for the average paycheck-to-paycheck family to cover. While mental health care workers are also undervalued and underpaid, we need to be looking at making mental health as accessible as going to a regular doctor. And as widely accepted.
Our vote matters.
The last year has taught us the value of the vote. We’ve been able to contrast an administration who hid information from the public and encouraged personal convenience over public health with one that has prioritized the health, safety, and economic recovery of its citizens. Whether we’re voting at a local, state, or national level, our votes make a difference. We need to remain informed voters, electing representatives who will advocate for us at every level of public office. While we cannot make the parties in office work together across party lies to make the country better, we can hold them accountable for their decisions when it comes time to cast our vote.
Of course, the pandemic has taught me many personal lessons about the relationships in my life and even the way I spend my time. It’s given me lessons in flexibility, adaptability, resilience, and patience. I have seen the strengths and challenges in my parenting and mental health, and I’ve learned so much about what really matters to me. I really want to hold onto these lessons, even when life shifts into whatever normal is next.
I cannot make anyone care about other people or take seriously a pandemic that has taken the lives of so many. I can’t convince anyone of anything they don’t want to believe. I’m not trying to.
Instead, I’m saying that we could be learning from this to make the world better. We could prioritize public health as a necessary measure for a healthier world. We could make sure that world is more accessible. We could make the workforce healthier, too, and pay healthcare and teachers accordingly for their work. We could feed students, forget perfect attendance, and vote for the people who care about making the world better rather than scoring points in the game of politics.
I can’t make the world listen or learn these lessons, but I can do my part. And you can do yours. And that is exactly what it will take to make the world a better place for all of us.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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