I’ve never been one for routines. Waking up and doing the same thing day after day always seemed numbing to me. What comfort is there in repeating yourself over and over again?
But the irony of routines is that they’re formed even when you subconsciously disdain them. And it’s easy not to fully appreciate them until they’re disrupted completely.
Outside my apartment walls, Brooklyn and all of New York City is held hostage by COVID-19. The virus now claims hundreds of lives a day here and has stretched the city’s healthcare system to its limits. Ambulance sirens wail every few minutes across all five boroughs, each most likely transporting someone dying of the novel coronavirus. Parks, landmarks, and most streets remain empty as the life and communities that populate them have been relegated to sheltering in place, as chronicled by videographer Matt Chirico.
Even as COVID-19’s eerie pall encompasses New York, my routine hasn’t changed much. I wake up, stretch, step outside for a few minutes, and begin working. I check email, read, write, edit, record, and do essentially everything I’d be doing if there weren’t a pandemic. We at BTRtoday are among the extremely lucky ones, people who are able to work remotely and earn a living while the world around us has shut down.
But part of my new daily routine is thinking about millions of Americans whose routines have been broken or eliminated altogether. Like my sister, who cares for developmentally disabled adults at a group home in New York state. She and countless others put themselves at risk daily working jobs now deemed essential, as if the labor of grocery store employees and sanitation workers and caregivers and millions of other Americans hadn’t been keeping our society running all along.
Or like my roommate, a now out-of-work bartender, who’s one of nearly 17 million Americans that have filed for unemployment. That’s 11 percent of the country’s workforce unable to earn wages to buy food, pay rent, or provide for their families.
Or the healthcare providers, both in New York and around the country, working tirelessly to save lives while risking their own. They’re dealing with the tatters of a broken private insurance-based healthcare system that’s left them unequipped for the current moment. More than 30 million people could lose their health insurance when this is said and done, leaving those out of work with no protection. Hospitals have been run as for-profit businesses for decades, employing just-in-time inventory to control costs and streamline efficiency. Private equity companies have picked them to the bone, leading some hospitals to close their doors amidst the worst healthcare crisis of our lifetimes.
And that leads me to think about the elected officials who exacerbated this crisis and lack the empathy and imagination required to deal with it. We live in a country designed and stratified to compound economic stressors and health crises, not fix them. The president and many in his employ thought American exceptionalism would spare us, that we could simply will the virus away. Even now as it ravages us, he and other leaders are more fixated on market responses than infection rates or death tolls. I think of the thousands who have and will needlessly die as a result of our national leaders’ lack of foresight, preparedness, and inability to think beyond deficit sheets and daily Dow Jones numbers.
COVID-19 may be unprecedented, but none of the problems it has exposed are new. The steely American resolve on which we pride ourselves in times of crisis still exists, especially among those showing up to work each day to keep our civilization from collapsing. But even the hardiest of wills can’t overcome systemic failure. The United States has disenfranchised, bankrupted, and oppressed scores of its own citizens for two centuries, leaving millions unable to work, vote, or even survive. And it took a full-scale global crisis to remind us how routine that really is.