The national conversation about coronavirus highlights existing conversations about enduring class inequities in the United States. Elite colleges and universities, in line with the CDC’s preventive measures for institutions of higher education, have opted to move instruction online and reduce the numbers of students in their residential buildings. The decision has placed a tremendous burden on students from low income backgrounds, students from countries the US has banned travel to, and students who rely on income from their on-campus jobs to support themselves and their families. The impact extends beyond campuses as volunteer organizations supported by students from colleges and universities are now limited in the services they can provide to the most vulnerable in their communities. Our public schools are experiencing class-related consequences as well. Over the weekend, New York decided to close down schools to thwart the spread of coronavirus despite New York City public schools aiming to stay open as long as possible. Since many of them operate as social service centers, offering health services and hot food that far too many childrens’ families would not be able to access otherwise, their closing means the loss of critical support.
Businesses are also scrambling to address the challenges of COVID-19. The news has focused on the impact of the coronavirus on stock markets but we also have to hold in mind the employees who are impacted by this ripple effect. Big tech companies have been lauded for paying hourly workers (e.g., some contract employees, cleaning staff, etc.) their full wages even though they’re working on a reduced schedule out of caution or because some categories of employees have been asked to work from home. Unfortunately, not all organizations have enough resources to support their employees in this way. To help businesses weather the impact of this crisis, state and federal legislatures will need to create safety nets for businesses to ensure they can do their part to support public health.
With all that’s going on globally and nationally, we can very easily feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Those are understandable feelings to have and they deserve space. We must also couple these feelings with continuing to stay informed, prepare as necessary, and take respite in the moments of joy and solidarity needed in these times. For members of our community that are privileged enough to help, we encourage you to support any local community aid funds that are circulating in your communities. If you can work from home, please do! And know that social distancing is not a license for social disconnection. As we aim to #flattenthecurve by avoiding large gatherings and safeguarding the health of the most vulnerable, there are many ways we can maintain our cherished connections by phone and other virtual modalities. Most importantly, let’s all consider how coronavirus has exacerbated class inequities that exist within the United States. While we explore ways to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, let’s also strategize on ways to address class inequities that make these uncertain times even more perilous for the most vulnerable members of our communities.