A COVID-19 Reacction: Most Public-Service Minded Peoples’ Roles Come Later

This was not an article I planned to write. It is in response to conversations with a half dozen people who feel guilty/useless about being at home while health care workers, cops, and some National Guard service members are on the front lines during the initial phase of the 2020 pandemic’s wave.

Some people are able to help from home: sewing masks, coordinating volunteers at food pantries, or providing counseling or support via phone or Zoom. Most aren’t though, and so they are left to logging crazy hours online, wandering around their house, opening and closing kitchen cabinets, trying not to freak out at their spouses or kids, and beating themselves up that they aren’t doing something to help other humans during COVID-19.

To be brief: let the health care workers, law enforcement officers, and activated National Guard soldiers and airmen do their thing. They are needed now and have a very distinct purpose. Most of us would just get in the way and muddle things up.

Our part comes later. A former student of mine is currently getting his Masters in Public Policy at Princeton. Before going back to school, he worked for the government examining ways to reform and improve healthcare delivery and find ways to save the public money. On Saturday morning, he wrote me: “The only difficult part is that I’m not in public service right now, which makes me feel a bit useless.” I told him that his role in this comes later. Whether it is evaluating our Federal government’s horrific preparation in January and February or the pre-pandemic lack of needed medical supplies or devising programs to help people deal with the long term health and economic aftermath, he’ll do something necessary and good. Just not right now.

I continue to teach and counsel. I’m able to do so from the comforts of my home, where I have power, heat, internet, plenty of food, books to read, plays to write, and a garden to use as a calendar to mark the procession of time. I am providing counseling and support to about two dozen NY State Troopers and soldiers who are on the front line, as well as a few nurses and doctors that are working crazy days in NYC hospitals. I’m able to work and help, but not like I really want to.

My part comes later. As of this morning, there are over 141,000 Americans that have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 2,300 that have died. This is just the start. Some models predict that tens of millions Americans will be infected and that over 200,000 may perish. No one knows for sure. But one thing is clear, the stress from the job losses and the massive economic hit that we’ve already taken (and which will worsen) is and will be incredible. Odds are that most of us will know someone who dies from this. There will be a great need for grief counseling and support. I expect it will be much of my work for the next two years.

So, please don’t fret or beat yourselves up over what you aren’t doing now. Stay home. Think about what comes next or after. And make sure you are able to do your part when called. You will be sorely needed.

Two resources:

The New York Times answers questions on COVID-19

An excellent source of COVID-19 information for NJ, NY, PA, and CT