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No one is disposable

During and after COVID, our lives have fundamental value



(Jan. 14, 2022) — Amidst a surge in COVID infections, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky shared findings from a new study on COVID deaths on Monday. In her words, “The overwhelming number of deaths [of vaccinated individuals in this study], over 75 percent, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities. So really, these are people who were unwell to begin with.”

Walensky goes on to describe these findings as “encouraging.”


These findings are not encouraging; they’re disturbing.

Here’s the thing. There are millions of people in the United States with four or more comorbidities that increase the risk of serious or fatal COVID illness. These are conditions as commonplace as depression, pregnancy, or smoking. Millions of “unwell” people in this country live full lives, even with more serious conditions like diabetes, immunosuppression, or cancer.

And many of these folks are working people. We know working class folks — especially BIPOC — often live in areas where environmental pollution increases our risks of developing serious illness or chronic disease. Working long hours takes a toll on our bodies, and many working people still struggle to access health care.

We have solid data that demonstrates working people have contracted COVID at high rates, especially BIPOC workers. Essential workers have risked their lives at their jobs and have paid the price.

It is not encouraging for even one of us to die of COVID, no matter how “unwell” we may be. Moreover, we need to be honest that death is not the only tragic outcome of COVID infection. Millions of people are living with long COVID symptoms ranging from frustrating to debilitating. As more people contract COVID, more and more long COVID patients are joining the ranks of millions of disabled Americans who deserve to survive this pandemic just as much as the able-bodied.

Our worth as human beings is not determined by our labor, or by our health, or by our age. Our lives have fundamental value. The lives of chronically ill people, disabled folks, and our at-risk children and elders have value. We must reject the idea that any of us can be sacrificed.

Protecting our wellbeing during COVID surges poses real problems for us as individuals and collectively. There are real, pressing problems: the mental health impacts of isolation, the impacts on children’s education, the concerns about the services we rely on grinding to a halt.

But the answer is not to welcome the idea that some of us won’t survive this. The answer is to invest in the resources critical services need to function, resources that will be vital through future surges and long after.

Chronic understaffing and underinvestment in necessary public services pre-dates COVID. For years, we have needed more teachers in schools. We have needed more paraeducators, more counselors, and more bus drivers to give kids the education they deserve. We have needed more healthcare professionals, more nurses, and more environmental services staff to provide the quality of care Washingtonians rely on.

Rather than resigning ourselves to the deaths of our fellow working people, rather than allowing politicians to tell us that it’s OK if our loved ones die, we must fight for the resources we need to build healthy thriving lives for all of us.

Learning to live with COVID doesn’t mean offering our people up as sacrifices. Learning to live with COVID means strategic mitigation efforts: masking, universal access to protective gear and testing, and air quality control. It means measured changes in our behavior to respond in the moment to changing conditions. It means holding our government accountable.

Learning to live with COVID means insisting that no one is disposable.

Sarah Tucker is the Digital Organizer for the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

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