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  • Writer's pictureBecca Dzombak

corona-tine dispatch 4: armed robbery, but make it covid-safe

I'm signed up to get our university's safety alerts, so I receive a text+email every time an assault, b+e, armed robbery, etc. is reported around campus. This means I get a depressingly predictable trickle of bad news, usually between Thursday evening and early Monday morning. There was an uptick in hate crimes after the 2016 election. There was an active shooter alert - thankfully, a false alarm. Recently, a gunman was in the house next to an old apartment of mine. (They always were hooligans. Dentistry students! *shakes fist*)

But the latest alert was memorable not for the crime - armed robbery, at knifepoint - but the description of the perpetrator. "He was last seen wearing a surgical mask."

What a world, folks. Even our aggravated thieves are socially conscious enough, or scared enough of dying in a hospital hallway before a ventilator is available, to don a face mask prior to heading out for their nefarious evening rounds. Obviously, another reason to wear a mask if you're going to rob someone is to avoid having an accurate description recollected, but I'm choosing to believe that they were just following CDC advice.

I saw a thread on twitter first thing this morning (mistake, 10/10 avoid) tangentially related to this. People who aren't in at-risk positions (cashiers, nurses, Instacart deliverypeoples) are encouraged to make their own cloth masks, or to sub in a bandana or scarf if you can't make your own. Beyond thinking that my once-white Ikea tea towels (a great mask fabric) are certainly not fit to see the light of day, then wondering if my assorted bandanas were with my camping/field gear or were in my hat pile, I didn't give this a thought. But the thread I saw (I can't find it, despite having just gone on a 20+ minute sojourn into the depths of twitter. Such a festering pit... here's a fun game: look at #cdc and try to tell if the tweets are russian bots or actual, good-ol'-fashioned, born n' raised American idiots) was poc's reactions to the suggestion to use a bandana (or scarf, or ski mask, etc.) to cover their faces, especially while entering stores. The gist was this: "You want me, a tall black man, to go into a store with a bandana over my face? No thank you." There was a follow-up post by a man who shared an image of his bright, floral-patterned mask to essentially put (white) people at ease.

So face masks are yet another way that people of color have to think a little longer, take that extra step, before making life-saving decisions. It absolutely never would have crossed my mind that putting on a bandana could be risky, potentially riskier than covid. (I am very, very white, and all my bandanas are REI's cheapest but gaudiest bandanas. I do not appear threatening, to say the least. More like a lost, wandering cowboy clown.)


I've seen growing coverage of the socioeconomic inequalities the pandemic is bringing up and creating, starting from the basics (healthcare, housing density), moving up through financial issues (sick leave, having savings, ability to work from home), and how the wealthy are ultimately dealing with the pandemic differently. And by "dealing with it differently," media really mean to say "are avoiding dealing with it because they can afford to not work, sequester themselves in their vacation homes, and send other people out into The World for things like food." Poorer and minority-dominated communities are more likely to be heavily affected by covid-19, due to a combination of chronically poor health, a lack of financial security that may have more people in "essential" jobs requiring them to be out of their homes, living in community housing (rather than single-family homes), and not having health care. Detroit has become something of a poster child for this imbalance.

New York City is the deadly hotspot people are focused on - and fair enough, with its intense population density and soaring covid-19 cases. But cities with large populations of people of

color, particularly African-Americans, are suffering hugely. Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago. This isn't chance. It's decades of systemic racism and socioeconomic oppression and healthcare systems that have neglected entire populations, coming to an ugly, deadly head. Covid-19 is more severe in people with chronic, underlying conditions - such as Type 2 diabetes - that are prevalent in African American populations. Other minority groups are suffering disproportionately too, whether in poor covid-19 outcomes or in financial security/job loss. Latinx workers have been hit the hardest by job loss, a recent PEW survey found. And voter suppression is already happening - Wisconsin was denied an extension for absentee voting - with an uphill battle to enforce mail-in voting, since the president literally uttered the words, "They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again," when discussing the Democrats' inclusion of funding for revising elections in the stimulus package. Voter suppression usually targets minority groups and working-class voters who cannot afford to take time off to vote. Forcing people to travel to vote in-person would affect everyone and would, like regular voting, leave out people who have to work - in this case, medical workers, factory workers, delivery people, cleaning crews...

There's also a gender imbalance in who the virus affects, and how: men have higher death rates from covid-19, and the jury is still out on why that seems to be the case. Similar gaps were seen in previous coronavirus outbreaks (SARS, MERS), and men having more underlying conditions like diabetes and heart disease has been suggested. But while women have better odds for surviving covid-19, they are affected in different ways. Reports for domestic violence have skyrocketed since global stay at home and lockdown orders have been issued. Historically, women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, and rates of dv increase for women of color. Women are also far more likely to be nurses, primary caregivers for children and the elderly, and responsible for household duties like cleaning and shopping. All these factors put women statistically at great risk of exposure to coronavirus. An article in The Atlantic back in March called this pandemic "a disaster for feminism" - and that was before a handful of red states tried to restrict abortions, deeming them nonessential, elective surgeries. These rules have already affected women seeking abortions, prompting them to travel (when they would rather stay at home) and even look into self-inducing abortions. Courts are beginning to weigh in (though not always in defense of women's rights), and hopefully these restrictions will be lifted from Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Alabama, and Ohio.


This has been a very roundabout, tangential way of saying big oof. I feel like every day now, I see a mix of fear and hope, productivity and malaise, uplifting articles about supporting each other and tone-deaf pieces on how this pandemic is really a great chance to relax at home,. (I'm not going to link the particular article in mind, (a) because it is only rage-inducing, and (b) I don't want him - yes, it was a well-off white man who wrote it, shocking - to get the clicks.) So when I got that alert about a knife-wielding-but-socially-conscious robbery, I couldn't help but laugh. (And think: he stole the victim's phone, which is probably covered in virus. I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot-pole.) We have to laugh at what we can.

For relief from the barrage of depressing articles, podcasts, and tweets, as well as the fact that every advertisement seems to be some form of, "Our Corporation cares about you in this crazy time!", I recommend watching John Krasinski's Some Good News youtube channel, avoiding twitter, and going for a nice walk. That's what I've been doing. (Also eating a lot of carbs. A lot.)

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