We can continue to learn from the pandemic and encourage inclusivity in our everyday practices.
The desire to return to “normal” after the COVID-19 pandemic is palpable. There is a strong sentiment that everything should go back to the way it was before.
Some people are even trying to forget about the virus and the subsequent shutdowns as though it was just a blip in time.
But did you know that some changes have actually benefited chronic illness and immunocompromised communities? Let’s talk about the good that came from this pandemic and the more inclusive normal that could be here to stay.
We’ve all heard the campaign “We are all in this together.” This was created to promote human connectivity, kindness, and a sense of community during unprecedented and challenging times.
This slogan helped to promote inclusivity, too. This means creating accommodations for people who have historically been excluded due to race, gender, sexuality, and ability.
One aim of this pandemic response was to include everyone for a gentler, kinder, and more flexible way of life.
The accommodations and increased accessibility that evolved nearly overnight during the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to make living with a chronic illness or a compromised immune system easier. The requests that different communities have been asking for were suddenly everyday practice!
One of the main accommodations was the flexibility that employers were able to offer. And this has continued beyond the height of the pandemic. Working from home, or even remotely, has been offered as a partial or full-time option for many people.
A report by the McKinsey Global Institute states that, following pandemic-related changes, around “20 to 25 percent of the workforces in advanced economies could work from home between three and five days a week.” That’s 4 to 5 times more remote work than before the pandemic.
More flexibility in working hours has also become common. If you have a chronic illness or a compromised immune system, you know how convenient it is to be able to work when you feel good and rest when you don’t.
As the world seemed to close for others, the world actually opened up in some new and exciting ways for those living with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems.
This included live shows and music from the comfort of our own homes. We finally had reasonable delivery and drive-up options for groceries. Children mastered online classrooms from anywhere and everywhere, regardless of pre-pandemic abilities and performance.
Increased telemedicine services opened new doors, too. We no longer had to miss work, arrange transportation, or arrange child care to attend medical appointments. Instead, they could happen by simply clicking a link on our phones!
The number of Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) telehealth visits increased 63-fold in 2020, with remote appointments with behavioral health specialists showing the largest increase.
While there were disparities by race, ethnicity and location for those who accessed telemedicine, new options were accelerated by the pandemic. We need to continue to make these possibilities available for all.
During the pandemic, society prioritized cleanliness. It has led to people washing their hands more, using hand sanitizers often, and staying home when sick.
The importance of covering coughs and sneezes has been reinforced. Masks are also more socially acceptable for people who choose to wear them.
When your immune system is weakened, these simple actions can make a big difference. The immunocompromised community has been advocating for these adaptations for years, but often to no avail.
Changing our cleanliness habits benefits numerous communities greatly.
Stay-at-home orders and lockdowns meant that many of us had to be in isolation at one point or another. This seemed to be very disturbing for nondisabled people living in the United States.
But isolation and loneliness are very common for people with a compromised immune system or chronic illness.
The occurrence of depression in those living with chronic conditions or an impaired immune system is quite common. According to research in 2017, up to 50% of people living with autoimmune diseases exhibit depression-like symptoms.
While these aren’t good statistics and need to be addressed, they do show a possible resiliency among those living with chronic illnesses and compromised immune systems.
This is not to say that these communities were any less affected by the pandemic, but they may have been more prepared for the mental impact of societal shutdowns. And they were able to share advice with others who weren’t.
It took a pandemic to recognize the strength and resilience of these communities, but it nevertheless shone a spotlight on health inequalities across the United States of America and the need for change.
As we find our way to a new “normal,” how can we continue to be inclusive to those living with chronic illnesses and compromised immune systems? How can we continue the changes that benefited numerous communities?
Join a support group or forum where you can connect with other people with similar health conditions as you. You can learn about other experiences, share your own, and offer support. You may even want to join or volunteer for communities that you know less about, to help allies with similar or different needs.
It’s important to find support circles for ourselves, but remember to show support for others too — no matter who they are.
Stay active with new and changing laws and regulations specifically around chronic illness and accommodations for the disabled.
You can find your representative to contact directly here. Just type in your zip code and results can tell you exactly who your representative is, an office address, a phone number, and even a contact form for emails.
Take action today, a resource compiled and maintained through the Arthritis Foundation, can show you who your elected officials are, what advocate opportunities you have, and changes to federal and state legislation.
Insurance coverage is complicated and ever-changing. Having answers to complicated insurance questions can give you a lot of power when suggesting changes to healthcare laws and regulations.
All states and the District of Columbia have a state insurance office, headed by a state commissioner. You can always start here with questions about your insurance coverage.
Healthcare.gov can be helpful, too. They have many answers to questions about privately purchased plans.
Want to do something on a smaller scale, but with a big impact? Thank the people who have been major players in your life during the pandemic.
A thank you card or a kind exchange of words to the delivery driver, the grocery store stocker, and the teachers that worked throughout the pandemic goes a long way.
Still not sure where to start? Thank the next person that serves you food at the local restaurant, fast-food drive-through, or convenience store.
Most importantly, continue to take action to be inclusive. Include others whenever you can. Little gestures go a long way.
Fact checked on July 19, 2022
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