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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Voice of The City: Exposing privilege during a pandemic

Advocating for social justice should not stop because of COVID-19—it should get stronger.

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 4:25 PM

Keisha Jefferies is a registered nurse and PhD candidate in the Dalhousie School of Nursing who is fortunate enough to work from home. She is from New Glasgow and has clinical experience in neonatal nursing and breastfeeding, as well as international research and health policy experience. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Keisha Jefferies is a registered nurse and PhD candidate in the Dalhousie School of Nursing who is fortunate enough to work from home. She is from New Glasgow and has clinical experience in neonatal nursing and breastfeeding, as well as international research and health policy experience.

  In the past couple of weeks, Canadians have watched earnestly as COVID-19 developments rippled across the country and around the world. Like some of you, I have been glued to press releases, news updates, social media and commentaries surrounding this pandemic. Currently, all provinces and territories have declared some sort of state of emergency—resulting in various restrictions placed on social events, bars, restaurants, gatherings and borders. 

While all this has been happening, the coronavirus pandemic has revealed telling inequities across race, class, gender and age.

We are right in the midst of this pandemic and there is no changing that. However, as Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, has indicated, we have a narrow opportunity to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing.  

Social distancing asks for the active avoidance of gatherings and large events. And now, it’s expanded to include restrictions around visitation, getting people to work from home and, in NS, limits gatherings to no more than five people. 

In a two-parent home, it is likely that a woman will end up working from home. Our class divide means that people in the “lower/lower-middle-class” are the ones who have lost jobs, had their hours greatly reduced or are simply less likely to be able to work from home. We also know that Black and Indigenous folks are less likely to be employed in positions that allow working from home.  

Plus—it is nearly impossible to practice social distancing in prison, which is why Martha Paynter and other prison abolitionists have called for “compassion and care in this crisis” and the release of prisoners. 

Kwame McKenzie, psychiatrist and professor in the department of psychiatry at U of T, explained that the COVID-19 response needs to “make sure the most vulnerable people in society are looked after."

When the first point of access for COVID-19-related concerns is through an online self-assessment screening tool—this directive poses a significant barrier for people who do not have access to (reliable) internet, those who may not be able to navigate an online assessment tool due to literacy issues or folks who are less tech-savvy.

Understanding all this, in the midst of a pandemic we should not be afraid to continue to advocate for social justice. Advocating for vulnerable groups is not divisive, especially in an environment where vulnerable folks end up bearing the brunt of the problem. For some of us, the COVID-19 developments are not an entirely new circumstance. Trying to make ends meet, job loss and financial uncertainty are harsh realities that many Canadians have experienced for years. The federal government announced an $82 billion plan to support Canadians in this challenging time. Yet, many of our vulnerable folks will not benefit significantly from this. 

Whether it is on the front line, through social media or the production of commentaries, we must continue to fight for the folks who continue to fall through the gaps in our system.

 To help address financial constraints exacerbated by COVID-19 in the Black community, Black activists in Nova Scotia established an emergency fund for Black folks in Nova Scotia. In my continued advocacy for African Nova Scotians, I encourage everyone to go and donate to this fund.

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Come back here or check with NS public health for the latest reliable updates. In the meantime, wash your hands, cover your cough, wipe commonly used surfaces and stay home if you feel sick.

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