When a shelter-in-place order took effect in March, both my parents believed in mask-wearing and social distancing. I work to reduce zoonotic transmission of disease by protecting tropical rainforests from deforestation, so I’d been talking to them about the coronavirus for months. We watched in horror as New York brought in refrigerated trucks and dug mass graves.
I was particularly worried for their safety because of who they are and where they live. The data shows that Latino people are three times more likely than White people to contract coronavirus and twice as likely to die of it. My dad, a Mexican American, was a front-line worker in the manufacturing industry. Like most people of color, he didn’t have the luxury of simply working from home or taking a leave of absence. Not working meant not getting a paycheck. He was part of the skeleton crew that kept the economy going, until he was furloughed in late April.
I also suspected that Maryvale, the Phoenix neighborhood where I grew up and where my parents still lived, would become a hot spot: Public health crises explode in the poorest Zip codes, the communities suffering most from government disinvestment. Maryvale is more than 75 percent Hispanic, with 30 percent of its residents medically uninsured; about 28 percent live below the federal poverty line. By June, when Arizona outnumbered cases per capita globally, my parents’ Zip code was the state’s epicenter. Meanwhile, testing was woefully inaccessible, leaving people standing in lines for 13 hours — in 115-degree weather — in hopes of getting a test.
But by the time Arizona started to reopen on May 15, I couldn’t compete with the message coming out of the White House, projected across cable news and reinforced by Ducey. Dad was a Republican. He watched Fox News, and he had voted for Ducey and Trump. When they told him not to live in fear, that very few people would catch the disease, that its effects weren’t serious, he believed them. My parents listened respectfully to me and to what I had to say about the coronavirus, but they also trusted our elected officials when they said we were on the other side of the pandemic. “The governor said it was safe,” Dad told me as, for the first time in months, he prepared to go out and meet up with his friends at their favorite karaoke bar. “Why would he say that if it wasn’t?”
A few weeks later, as he was fighting to breathe and terrified that he might die, he told me he felt betrayed. It was one of our final conversations. The next day, he was put on a ventilator. He died five days later, without family, as an ICU nurse held his hand. My father didn’t deserve that ending, and neither did the 149,000 people, and counting, that we’ve lost.
We got to this crisis because our leaders decided not to lead. The pandemic has surged across the country because politicians refused to acknowledge the severity of the disease, to increase testing and contact tracing, to give people desperately needed economic relief so they could stay home. Elected officials chalked everything up to individual choice and responsibility — and then refused to give the public clear direction on how to minimize risk. Even as the case counts skyrocket, their response has been no response at all: They forge ahead with reopening businesses, public spaces and schools as if nothing is happening. As if people aren’t dying unnecessary, difficult, lonely deaths.
At every stage of this slow-motion catastrophe — downplaying the virus, disregarding the advice of scientists, encouraging people to “liberate” themselves from health restrictions, pushing states to reopen too fast, without a plan — the Trump administration and its allies have made one thing abundantly clear:
People like my dad are expendable, no matter how they vote.
Judging by other countries that have contained their outbreaks, it seems obvious that the coronavirus was not some unforeseeable natural disaster that we were helpless to prevent or mitigate. I refuse to let our government officials wash their hands of our suffering.