Then consider that 43 percent of essential workers are people of color, according to Chandra Farley, director of the Partnership for Southern Equity’s Just Energy program. “We sometimes automatically characterize people as vulnerable, without saying they are made to be more vulnerable to certain things because of systemic racism and historic inequities,” Farley told WIRED in August. A study published in July by researchers at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine found that in poorer US counties, those with substantial nonwhite populations had eight times the number of Covid infections than those with substantially white populations, and nine times the number of deaths. Which is all to say: Who you become during and after the pandemic depends on your systemic privileges.
Age is a factor too. The elderly are more susceptible to severe Covid-19, but they’re also more susceptible to isolation. And isolation has its own risks, both for physical and mental health. “I must say that my take is quite bleak,” says Elena Portacolone, a sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco. Older adults living alone may also be struggling with health conditions like diabetes, cancer, or dementia.
Those on fixed incomes may have already been scraping by before the pandemic, and are now saddled with extra costs. For example, the price of food has soared during the pandemic. Money may be so tight, Portacolone says, that some elderly Americans can barely afford to buy masks. “So the suffering coming from being stuck and having very little money has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” Portacolone says.
At the same time, one of the few upsides to the pandemic is that it has opened doors for the elderly and other people to get care. “There’s been a big shift in telehealth and digital mental health,” says Heinz. That’s because mental health workers like Heinz haven’t been able to see their patients in person, so they’re turning to video sessions. After the pandemic, she hopes that this trend becomes permanent. “Working to access resources and care through digital means is a shift that I hope just keeps on going,” Heinz adds.
Videoconferencing can also help alleviate loneliness. In June, entrepreneur Cat Lee cofounded a service called Pace. It’s kind of like Zoom, but for group therapy. A mental health professional acts as a facilitator for therapy groups, be they for struggling dads and moms, or for those going through a divorce or separation made all the more difficult during the pandemic without access to support networks. (Heinz operates as a facilitator for Pace.) “A common theme is people sort of struggling in isolation, feeling alone and wanting to feel connected,” says Lee. “And these groups give people a chance to practice empathy with one another and vulnerability.”
Pace is not meant to be a replacement for one-on-one therapy, but a complement to it. The idea is to provide a way for people to talk through their problems and find a community in the middle of a pandemic. “You’re going through similar life circumstances or similar struggles, and that breaks the ice and sort of starts the trust going, and meets their goal of deepening connection with others,” says Lee.
And as awful as the past year has been, perhaps the pandemic can elicit change within ourselves and within communities. Maybe you’ve picked up cooking or a new hobby or finally started that novel. Maybe you’ve been more diligent about keeping in touch with faraway friends and relatives. Maybe you’ve gotten to know your neighbors better. “There’s been so much doom and gloom, and trauma and adversity,” says Heinz. “And I think what we sometimes forget in the midst of it, when we’re in the weeds, is that we’re capable of a lot of growth when we go through hard things. And sometimes, we come out as better versions of ourselves, both as individuals and as communities.”