How would you feel if you asked your boss for a mask to protect yourself from the ongoing pandemic and you received a dog diaper or coffee filter instead? Feelings that come to mind are disrespect, betrayal and hopelessness.
This array of feelings were experienced by many McDonald’s workers in Oakland, California, who were trying to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19. It is important to realize that this type of treatment of fast-food employees, the lack of regard for the severity of the pandemic and the 210,000 Americans that have died are all byproducts of the culture the president has created.
In an attempt to bolster his campaign, President Donald Trump has tried to push COVID-19 to the rear, downplaying its severity—but his actions backfired. At the same time, Trump is disrespecting the thousands of deaths that have occurred, the grueling work of essential employees and instead, has taken to spreading erroneous statements that negatively affect people’s actions in society.
Ever since the outbreak of COVID-19, Trump has attempted to undermine the danger of the virus. As early as April 12,Trump pushed states to relinquish restrictions and pressured schools, businesses and churches to reopen, in an effort to save his campaign. He even created a top-down culture of fear within the White House, where workers resorted to not wearing masks in an effort to impress their boss, to whom wearing a mask was regarded as a weakness. According to Olivia Troye, a top aide on the coronavirus task force, “You were looked down upon when you would walk by with a mask.” Trump’s hostility to masks implies that protecting your life, your family and caring about others is a character flaw. With this selfish, lackluster relationship with COVID-19, it is no surprise that Trump and many close to him contracted the virus.
Trump, further, has propagated these misplaced beliefs beyond the walls of the White House, having infected the minds of many Americans, going so far as encouraging bosses to endanger their workers.
Many Latina women from Mujeres Unidas y Activas, a nonprofit in San Francisco, discussed the way their bosses would treat COVID-19. The veracity of COVID-19 was increasingly understood among the Latinx community, which was disportionately affected, and many knew someone who was severely impacted by the pandemic. As a result, many of the low-income, Latina workers were doubtful of their bosses’ assurance that the virus was a hoax, that masks were useless and that positive test results were false and should be ignored.
One boss insisted that mask-wearing would scare away the customers. Another offered his workers $50 to come to work after a few employees tested positive. Many of these women were essential workers who had to work regardless of the state of the world. The attitudes of their bosses—brought by Trump’s antics—further endangered their health.
As a result of people’s indifference to COVID-19 and their distrust for testing, many did not even know about the resources they had to protect themselves from COVID-19. The Latina women in the Mujeres Unidas y Activas organization did not know that they could ask for medical leave and receive COVID-19 testing without insurance.
The nonchalant attitude towards COVID-19 and the resultant misinformation broadened the racial gap seen in hospitalization and death rates. Black and Latinx demographics are roughly two to three times more likely to be infected than their white counterparts, roughly four times more likely to be hospitalized by it and nearly three times as likely to die from it. Of the 121 children who died from the virus through July, nearly 80 percent were children of color: 45 percent Latino and 29 percent Black.
As the president of the United States, Trump does not realize the gravity of his actions and words. He fails to recognize that his words reach from one person to the next, from one state to the other, from border to border. He has solely focused on his goals and campaign, and fails to see the irreparable damage he has left in his wake. He has contributed to systemic racism and dangerous attitudes that cost lives and cannot be undone.
But there is still hope to change the narrative of the country and there are still good people out there who are trying to narrow the racial gaps and other issues heightened by COVID-19 and the president’s actions. Maria Jose Bastias, an English-language teacher with Mujeres Unidas y Activas, incorporated some public health lessons within her classes, informing women of their access to testing and health care, and clearing misconceptions created by the president.
It is gracious acts by people like Bastias that are going to defeat the odds of the statistics and help eliminate health disparities within the Latinx community.
As young voters, we too can take small actions that will have enduring impacts. I encourage you to raise your voice by voting. Who you choose will shape the next years of your life and that of others. Voting is a right that not everyone in the world has, and if you have it, you should use it.