Everyone has a role in limiting the impact of coronavirus

March 10, 2020, 9:34 PM UTC

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By all indications, we’re still in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., and the worst is yet to come. “I think the next two weeks are going to be very difficult,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the most recent former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told USA Today. “I think that this is going to play out over the next two months, but you’re really going to see a change, I think, in the country’s perception and mood and approach over the next two weeks.”

Limiting the scope of the epidemic must be the focus now, he says, since containment no longer appears to be an option.

And that means, for anyone who can, staying home and steering clear of other people.

It’s simply the right thing to do to help stop the spread of a potentially lethal illness and prevent a terrifying overload of the U.S. health care system. But it occurs to me that there are some simple ways to extend the spirit of empathy and community beyond handwashing and video conferencing. This is no time for rugged individualism.

Here are five ideas to help lighten the burden of COVID-19.

1. Be a good bystander.

I’ve felt the tension ratchet up in the last 48 hours alone. Cashiers, flight attendants, delivery people, beat cops, bus drivers, mail carriers, food servers, pharmacists, help desk personnel… for so many working people, interaction with the public now feels fraught. So, be extra kind. But if you see something, like an AAPI person being bullied or targeted because of their perceived connection to the virus, be a good bystander and intervene if you feel able. Bystander advice draws from a range of situations, but the practices always apply. Here are some tips on how to stay safe when intervening in person, find advice on addressing online harassment here. Bonus points if you stop people from calling it the “Chinese coronavirus.” That’s racist.

2. Consider overtipping.

Although you may be traveling less, you may still be encountering people who rely on tips for their living—food servers, hotel custodial staff, delivery people, taxi or ride-share drivers. Consider doubling what you might normally tip them. It’s a wash for you, as you’ll likely be spending less in the near future, and it will definitely make a big difference to them.

3. There are plenty of people who are already socially isolated.

While “social distancing” may be a new term for most of us, there are plenty of folks who are distant by default, rather than design. It’s got to be particularly frightening if you’re older, trying to manage an illness or disability, chronically lonely, or simply a newcomer to the job or a neighborhood. Now would be a good time to reach out from a safe distance—the phone still works!—and find out how they’re doing. Allyship alert: How about reaching out to the one “minority” person you sort of know at work and make a connection? Nothing says neutral common ground like a non-discriminatory killer virus you both share.

4. Understand how the COVID-19 response intersects with public policy.

There are a range of temporary unemployment insurance or paid sick day schemes being discussed, often on the state and local level, designed to allow low-wage workers or anyone without benefits to stay safely at home without destroying their finances. Consider also very vulnerable populations — the elderly poor, people who are homeless or housing insecure, incarcerated people. What is the right way to mitigate their risk of infection and illness? Fortune will be covering all relevant policy news—subscribe to Fortune’s Outbreak newsletter for a daily roundup of stories on the coronavirus.

5. Remember, not everyone is safe in their home.

Around 12 million people are hurt, harassed, stalked, or raped by an intimate partner every year. The total costs to the U.S. economy of intimate violence exceed $8 billion a year, costing some $727.8 million in lost productivity alone. For a person at risk, this puts “working from home” in a terrifying light. And, as raceAhead has covered before, the vast majority of companies don’t have a formal domestic violence policy. If you’re in a position to support, create, or communicate workplace benefits designed to help people who may be dealing with intimate partner violence, now would be an excellent time to do so.

What else should be on the list? Let us know.

Ellen McGirt

On Point

Chinese government claims credit for containing COVID-19 But some are crying foul, saying the success stories being circulated by the government are just dangerous propaganda. Early attempts to contain the virus fell short, say critics. And longstanding systemic issues—like the alleged shoddy construction that caused a hotel to collapse in the southeastern province of Fujian, and which was being used as a quarantine facility—have inspired people to find bold ways to confront their government and document their concerns. It’s dangerous work. One news anchor quit his job and began reporting independently from crematoriums and from buildings on lockdown. “I’m not willing to disguise my voice, nor am I willing to shut my eyes and close my ears,” he said in his last video dispatch, before he was detained.
Los Angeles Times

Canada aims to criminalize LGBTQ conversion therapy The new legislation is a Trudeau campaign promise kept; the proposed amendments to Canada’s Criminal Code would make the therapy itself illegal, as well as removing a minor person from Canada to undergo a “treatment” designed to suppress or change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Advertising such services would also be illegal under the new rule. Well done, them.

Mexican women launch "A Day Without Us" protest The 24-hour strike was designed to call attention to the shocking level of violence against women across the country; an unknown number stayed home from school, work, and other gatherings. The rate of femicide is bad and getting worse. About 10 women are murdered in Mexico each day, a figure that has increased 137% over the last five years and significantly outpaces the general homicide rate. "This is a very important cause, it's not a game, not a vacation day," Ileana Lopez, an administrator at a pharmaceutical company, told NPR. "Women have to fight for their rights every day."

On Background

Wrongly convicted, now free While prison snitches make good television drama, in real life, they’re deeply problematic. In a stunning and effective interactive feature, ProPublica profiles 10 men who were wrongly convicted of a serious crime, in part on the word of a jailhouse informant. The exonerees are all very different from each other. “Their cases afford a rare opportunity not only to see the human cost of jailhouse informant testimony that is false or concocted, but to see how widespread prosecutors’ reliance on these witnesses is,” say reporters Pamela Colloff and Katie Zavadski.

By erasing Islam from Rumi’s poetry, we all miss his point Rumi’s love poetry has been a revelation for seekers of universal wisdom around the world for centuries. But the New Yorker’s Rozina Ali argues that his popularity, particularly within high tone circles— Madonna, Tilda Swinton, and Coldplay’s Chris Martin are among his current celebrity fans—have allowed publishers to erase Rumi’s Muslim essence from his work to our detriment. But don’t blame rock and roll. “It was in the Victorian period that readers in the West began to uncouple mystical poetry from its Islamic roots.” It was Rumi’s unique experience at the intersection of Sufism, Sunni Islam, and Koranic debate that informed his voice, and animated his desire for oneness with God. But a committed contempt for Islam persuaded scholars over the years that Rumi was “mystical not because of Islam but in spite of it.”
New Yorker

I’m not normal and neither are you Relax, there really isn’t any such thing as normal. In the "The Myth of Optimality in Clinical Neuroscience," two members of Yale’s psych department use evolution to show that all brains are different. In fact, to expect uniformity is, well, abnormal. “We propose that, instead of examining behaviors in isolation, psychiatric illnesses can be best understood through the study of domains of functioning and associated [complex] patterns of variation across distributed brain systems,” they write. Put another way, limiting people to linear definitions of disease prevents them from enjoying a wide variety of behaviors and from being able to inhabit their full selves.

Tamara El-Waylly produces raceAhead and manages the op-ed program.


“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

Gabriel García Márquez, from Love in the Time of Cholera

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