Facing COVID-19 and the election in Connecticut

I’ve been lucky enough to feel the peace of a long COVID-19 summer spent mostly in the safety of my own home and garden. But this peace is increasingly threatened by my agitation about the upcoming election. Can I trust that problems with voting and misinformation about the candidates conveyed by Russians as well as Americans, including President Trump, will not distort the outcome?

Watching Trump and his administration suggest that the pandemic is “in the rearview mirror,” and governors in some states refuse to institute masks and social distancing, I have been grateful to live in Connecticut, where my local shops remind me to mask before entering, and no one mocks me when I try to find my safe distance. Though we were among the first states to experience the virus, as of Sept. 3, Connecticut had just over 53,000 cases of COVID-19. As impressive, when deaths from the virus nationally are approaching 200,000, Connecticut has suffered only 4,468 deaths (https://portal.ct.gove/coronavirus). 

Each and every one of Connecticut’s 4,468 deaths is obviously a personal tragedy for the lost life of that individual, as well as for his or her loved ones. Nevertheless, we can thank Gov. Lamont’s statewide policies for living in one of the 22 states with the lowest rates of infection. We are now down to 1-9 new cases per 100,000 daily, which still allows for “potential community spread.” (Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have “escalating community spread,” and Alabama, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa all have “unchecked community spread.”)

Just as the pandemic has exposed vast racial differences in susceptibility to the virus, it has also made clear that not everyone, even within Connecticut, has the same access to high-quality medical care, or to modern, well-ventilated public schools with sufficient space and enough teachers to educate every child in a socially distanced manner. Although children were once believed to be immune to COVID-19, there have been 500,000 cases among children in the United States, and around 2,500 in Connecticut. In addition, around a dozen Connecticut children have been diagnosed with Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome. It is also important to remember that children are taught by teachers, among whom a substantial minority have pre-existing conditions, and so will be susceptible to severe cases of the coronavirus.

Connecticut’s plans for the school year seem sensible, though not easy to achieve. Arguing that “in-person schooling” is best for students, Lamont has instructed districts to be sensitive to “opportunity gaps” that may have increased during the pandemic, and to “address inclusion, equity, and access for all learners” — a challenge that was rarely met even before the pandemic.

I’ve begun going outside my home more often, shopping for groceries more frequently and with greater ease than I did when each trip seemed a risky high-wire walk. Sharing a meal in an outdoor restaurant has become one of summer’s pleasures, too soon to be ended. Will my friends be willing to sit in my living room when Connecticut’s winter brings ice and snow?

Although I voted by mail in the primary, and will likely ask for an absentee ballot for the November election, Trump’s alarming election threats and warnings have made me feel the urgency to do more than cast my vote. So I’ve begun responding to calls for election-related volunteers, from group letter-writing to poll-watching. These tasks will take me out of my COVID-19 isolation. But I feel a growing confidence that I can manage myself in public spaces. And the election seems sufficiently important to assume the risks.

 

Carol Ascher, who lives in Sharon, has published seven books of fiction and nonfiction, as well as many essays and stories.  She is trained as a spiritual director.

 

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