By ena ganguly
Two days after the City of Austin’s stay-at-home order expired, the City extended their order till August 15th. Austin is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, hence, an increase in hospitalizations. Austin Public Health is continuing to urge residents to wear masks (email firstname.lastname@example.org if you need masks!), physically distance themselves from others, and avoid social gatherings — so why are some of us acting as if COVID-19 never happened?
Of course I want to go back to ‘normal’, and of course I miss being able to go to the movies, eat at a restaurant or go swimming. However, it’s just not safe right now for us to engage in these activities. As of July 1st, big capacity hospitals are running at capacity in major cities. Moreover, the U.S.A now has close to 3 million COVID-19 cases, outnumbering any other country in the world.
Yet, in Texas, folks are going out to the club and having brunch the day after, putting their lives and others lives at risk in the process. Of course, these activities have been encouraged by our state’s political leaders. As a result, those of us in Austin have been getting mixed messages. City officials tell us to stay at home. The state tells us to patronize businesses. Then the state tells us COVID-19 cases are rising, so wear your mask! Observe social distancing. Oh and also, your favorite nail salon is now open. Celebrate your national holidays with family and friends! The messaging is all over the place, and as queer people of color, we know it cannot be trusted.
Here are some tips if you’re out and about, to see friends or run errands:
Cover your entire mouth area. Your face mask must be covering your nose, your mouth and your chin. Here is some information on how to wear your face mask. Many people are wearing their masks right underneath their nose, and that’s not protecting your nose from the virus, or worse, the mask is hanging around their neck. One can argue that our eyes are also potential areas to contract the virus, so wearing glasses, or a face shield if you can access one, would also be an added advantage. (email email@example.com if you need face shields!)
Don’t feel guilty about having to work or wanting to protest. I understand that lots of folks are having to work right now, and many more don’t have the luxury of working from home. There are also many who are concerned about the state of this country, specifically the overfunding and lack of accountability of the police, so they are taking to the streets to protest. You can read my previous blog where I include some resources on how to protect yourself while protesting. These are valid reasons to be outside, because 1) we have to earn money to be able to access the necessities of life, and because 2) racism is also a public health crisis killing our communities.
When you come, put all of your clothes in the washer or your hamper. Wash your glasses, if you wear them, with water and soap. Take a shower with soap and water and make sure to wash under your fingernails, wash your face, and your hair if it was exposed. Make sure to keep your shoes near the door instead of wearing them inside as it can increase the risk of the virus getting on a household surface. If you have disinfectant spray, I’d recommend spraying down the door locks and door knob, but if you don’t, that’s okay.
For those of us who ‘miss their friends’ and want to return back to normal, so they put themselves, and those they are in contact with, at risk to be able to have their fun. It’s not okay, y’all. We are not anywhere close to being back to normal. It sucks, I know. We must realize that we are causing harm to ourselves and to those we love by engaging in risky activities like going to the club right now. Even worse, we are more than likely causing harm to the most vulnerable of our communities: the elderly, immunocompromised and Black and Indigenous communities.
There are other ways we can see our friends and take photos of our moments together while still observing physical distancing and wearing our personal protective equipment. One idea is to visit a friend with a garage or outdoor patio, take some chairs outside and sit six feet apart while drinking a cold drink and chatting. We are far less likely to contract the virus outside. This goes for all other outdoor activities like hiking together or going canoeing or kayaking (with one person per canoe/kayak), with the exception of any contact sports. I completely understand that we miss one another, especially if we live alone, but we should seriously reconsider the way we are engaging with each other at this time.
I get it, many Texan political leaders and federal officials are encouraging the reopening of the economy, encouraging us as residents to stimulate the economy, implying it is safe for us to be out and about again. We know that this is not true, and we must hold on to this truth as if our lives depended on it. And let’s be honest, right now, it does.