Reacting to Covid-19—How Will We Help?

All those who have traveled on commercial airlines know the instructions: In case of a loss of cabin pressure, put the drop-down mask on yourself first, and then on your child (or companion or others, I presume). The same idea applies to any disaster: secure your own situation first, then help others.

This applies to the Novel Coronavirus aka Covid-19 as well. And from what I can tell most of the U.S. is on the way to securing their personal situations. In the US we have general instructions from the CDC and more specific instructions for our local situations from our state and city health departments. News articles have multiplied about what to do in a variety of situations, from dining at restaurants, to travel, to how to protect your pet.

But what about helping others? What should we be doing to assist those who are suffering as a result of this virus? And what should we do about those suffering because our neighbors are afraid to do what normally gets done?

I learned about this last failing on Monday when I visited a local blood donation center here in New York City. I learned that blood donations were way down, and that not a single donation was made at the center on Friday. Not One Donation!

That can develop into a big problem quickly. It’s not because those who have the virus need blood—as I understand it, the vast majority of those sick with Covid-19 won’t need blood. BUT, the rest of our healthcare system in the western world depends on blood donations. If the supply of blood isn’t sufficient, to put it bluntly, people die who would otherwise survive.

The people I spoke with at the blood center said they believed donations were down because donors were afraid of going out—afraid that they would somehow be exposed to Covid-19.

Here in New York City these fears also have the unintended consequence of hurting the Chinatown neighborhood as well. Business in the stores and restaurants there has dropped off, threatening their survival. According to news reports one 30-year-old restaurant closed rather than renew its lease because of the loss of business due to the virus.

Apparently customers aren’t visiting because they assume they will be exposed to the virus from those who have arrived recently from China. Actually, the rise in cases in the New York City area came mostly from a white lawyer who was exposed while visiting Miami and who is the starting point for nearly 100 cases in the suburbs north of the city. No Chinese were involved.

A somewhat hidden effect of the virus is those who may not be sick, but who are under quarantine because they were exposed. For example, here in New York City we have 36 cases (as of 2:30 this afternoon), but well more than 2,000 have been asked to voluntarily quarantine themselves so that they don’t spread the virus to others. I learned of one of those cases in Church on Sunday. He was a member of the ward I was attending who had happened to be in the ER when some of those infected came in.

Also effected will be the seniors and those with medical conditions who are now being urged to avoid going out as much as possible. In my neighborhood many seniors go daily to a senior center for lunch and some entertainment. If they stop going (as advice suggests they should), how will their meal be replaced? What other support will they need if they can’t go out?

Those in quarantine or unable or unwilling to leave their homes will, of course, need support. They likely won’t have stored enough food and supplies for the week or two required. They will need help.

I wrote the first draft of this post while I was at the blood center on Monday and before I learned that Sam Brown over at BCC had written a similar post—one that makes many of the same points I made above. He’s a better writer than I. However, I am still posting this because I think this is a very important idea. We need to go beyond simply trying to prevent the spread of this virus. We need to go beyond securing our own mask, and put masks on those around us, making sure they are prepared, comfortable and able to survive this disaster.

We, members of the Church, are proud of our ability to take care of both the members of our wards and of our neighbors. We brag of how our fellow members show up to help at natural disasters as well as for births, sickness and death in our wards. Isn’t this Covid-19 just another natural disaster?

Right now I think we are so focused on our fears and on how to protect ourselves in every eventuality that we’re forgetting our obligation to love our neighbors.

So, I urge you. Find out if the blood center in your area is getting enough blood. Check with the senior centers in your area to see if they have the resources they need. Check on your senior neighbors and let them know you’re prepared to run errands so they don’t have to be exposed (assuming that’s a real threat in your area). Go out to eat in your Chinatown, if it is suffering because of bad assumptions like the one here in New York. Find out if there’s a way to help anyone in quarantine because they may have been exposed.

And, ask yourself, what else might we do to help others during this natural disaster?

[I’d love to hear what other ideas you have for helping others during this disaster.]