COVID and community care

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A cartoon owl sits on top of a red book set against a blue background, and is saying “COVID is over!” in a word bubble. 
Who could’ve seen this one coming… CIker-Free-Vector-Images via Pixabay, manipulated by Lee Lim

Despite WHO’s declaration on the end of COVID, people are still being made vulnerable 

As of May 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the end of the global COVID-19 pandemic. In an attempt to justify the declaration WHO cited increased immunity, higher vaccination rates, lessening death toll, and observed reduced pressure on hospitals.  

For some, this came as welcome news. For many, it entailed a collective sigh of relief after what feels like the end of a period marked by the confluence of crisis. Yet, as this pandemic illustrates, crisis rhetoric can also enact the violent erasure of the most ‘vulnerable’ from safety measures and procedures. The formal ending of a crisis may work similarly.  

Vulnerability in this sense is perhaps better captured in ‘being made vulnerable’ by inadequate government and social safety net responses. The COVID-19 pandemic paired with “we are all in this together” crisis rhetoric illuminated the disparities in what it meant to be in it together by amplifying forms of ableism, ageism, classism, transphobia, and racism.  

Disability justice and COVID-19 

Today we stand at a point in time when the COVID crisis has supposedly ended. However, for those who continue to remain vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus such as the immunocompromised, people with disabilities, chronically ill, the elderly, or people living in confined spaces such as carceral settings, these vulnerabilities remain. Likewise, the need to continue community care practices such as masking has not disappeared.  

When did we stop being ‘in this together?’ Taking a disability justice response to COVID-19 would move us away from the myth of independence that tells us everyone can and should be able to do everything on their own – this extends to ideas of individualistic health and well-being. Further, existing colonial and capitalist structures perpetuate the idea that we are all in competition and must protect ourselves and our individual freedoms from others’ self-interests and at their expense.  

Rather, disability justice posits that we must acknowledge our interdependence. This means embracing and recognizing that no one lives independent lives. This is a myth. Moreover, the idea of being cared for and caring for others is essential to our well-being and survival. A collective care model, central to disability justice, acknowledges that the wellbeing of a community is a shared responsibility.  

It requires that a community commits to addressing interlocking oppressions, such as those listed previously, and takes seriously the mutual responsibility to safeguard each others’ health and well-being. A commitment that must exist as long as some are made vulnerable. 

Mutual aid and harm reduction 

Despite the pandemic having been declared officially over by WHO, our commitment to each other to be in this together has not ended. Mutual aid works hand-in-hand with collective care and is about cooperating to serve community members and create networks of care outside of existing structures in order to meet the needs of our neighbours and peers.  

It can look like bringing your chronically ill friend a meal when they are too tired to cook, someone coming to clean your place when you’re still dealing with long-haul COVID, or staying up late talking with someone you know facing increased isolation because of continued COVID anxiety. In these supposedly ‘post-pandemic’ times, mutual aid remains critical as COVID-19 is still present in our communities. Everyday practices such as masking, washing hands, or regularly testing for COVID remain an important part of harm reduction. 

Pod mapping 

Originally developed by disability justice activist and community organizer Mia Mingus for the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, pod mapping is a tool focused on addressing accountability and dealing with harm in community. Pod mapping can be easily adapted to individual use as an extension of mutual aid and collaborative care. It’s a visual tool that illustrates a microcosm of ‘community’ and is helpful to connect, plan, and follow through on support if needed.  

Although the COVID pandemic has been declared over, the ways we support, connect, and care for one another have been fundamentally reshaped by the pandemic. Individuals can practice harm reduction by continuing to have open and honest conversations surrounding collective care, and pod mapping is a practical tool from which to start. For those interested in principles of disability justice and additional resources, check out SinsInvalid.org.  

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