This op-ed story was produced during the Fall 2020 Youth Voice Workshop.
As the COVID-19 pandemic first unfolded in March of this year, from my living room TV in Edina, I watched India go into a complete lockdown, including restrictions on rail and bus services and a declared imprisonment sentence for anyone who did not abide by the strict lockdown rules.
For nine months, my grandparents who live in Hyderabad have not left their apartment. With a population of 1.3 billion—the second largest in the world—the Indian government cannot afford to take any risks. A large majority of the population that live in rural cities lack access to basic health infrastructure, and simply cannot take the precautions needed to protect themselves from the pandemic.
Meanwhile, in my city, I’ve seen students and adults alike refuse to wear a mask out of simple apathy, if not to flaunt the ideals of their political party. When I see people in my comparably wealthy community disregarding basic health precautions, I can’t help but think of the very communities in India that lack access to the resources they are refusing.
In conversations with my family members in India, there seems to be a resonating tone of doing what it takes to keep themselves and the country safe. India has not had a perfect handle on the pandemic—it is far from it, but what is even more apparent is the blatant disregard of science and emphasis on politics that has drawn its way into the pandemic here in the United States.
At the beginning of the pandemic, my family was more worried for the safety of my family in India—taking into account the high population and lack of resources. Now, months later as we slip into the third wave of the pandemic, we wonder how the US has found itself in a worse situation; although India has a population three times the size of the US, the US has seen double the cases of COVID-19.
According to NPR News, the number of people dying since May 10 in the U.S. is on average 50% higher than every other country in a study including 18 other high-income countries. When I see the blatant refusal to wear a mask from people in my own community, I think of my grandparents who cannot afford to make the slightest mistake for their health. I think of the millions of people living in India’s slums that do not have a choice to make about their safety. I think about how our number of cases have managed to surpass those of a developing country with three times the population of ours, and I think about how an issue of public safety has become everything but that.
COVID-19 is a matter of life or death and choosing to have a sense of responsibility for yourself and your community is a matter of humanity. We have spent these last six months in the US choosing sides and disregarding science. How we choose to handle the virus has become a political issue and wearing masks and social distancing—both basic health precautions—have somehow become associated with political beliefs. We’ve polarized this issue and divided ourselves, during a time that should have been characterized by solidarity. When will we see science take the priority? When will we see our own political leaders and communities have a sense of responsibility? I hope that if there is anything we have learned from this pandemic, it’s that we learn to take a sense of responsibility for ourselves and our community, and we recognize that we are all part of something bigger—that each and every one of our actions makes an impact.