Larkin Taylor-Parker, Attorney
Over the last seventeen months, my colleagues at DRNC and I have been focused on COVID-19 issues. We have stood up for equity and tried to keep people with disabilities informed about how to stay as safe as possible. Doctors and scientists are still learning about this ever-changing disease, and we will continue to keep you up to date. As part of that effort, we want to update you on the state of the pandemic in North Carolina.
The COVID-19 pandemic in NC today
Conditions are dangerous. About five times more people are in our hospitals because of COVID now than last month at this time. NC is reporting several thousand cases per day, up from a few hundred a month ago.
Experts say that COVID test positivity rates over 5% are cause for serious concern. In NC, there are now many counties reporting positivity rates over 20%, some between 25%-30%. Only two of NC’s one hundred counties are still below 5%. We’re seeing this fast spread because of the very contagious Delta variant. Many healthcare workers treating people with COVID suspect that Delta makes patients sicker faster and hits children harder than earlier strains of the virus. Studies are starting to support their observations. The pandemic may get worse before it gets better in our state. School is starting, and many children are too young to be vaccinated. As COVID circulates in our communities, it is expected to run through schools and spread among students and their families.
The pandemic’s impact on the disability community
The rising wave of cases puts the disability community at risk. Many people with disabilities have weakened immune systems. Even if they get vaccinated, they are vulnerable to breakthrough cases. We are hearing reports that many immunocompromised people are going back into isolation because they reasonably fear for their lives. If COVID continues to spread at this rate, the facilities where many of the most vulnerable disabled people must currently live may need to go back into isolation, too.
If COVID continues to spread out of control, conditions may look a lot like they did last winter. We do not have to go through that again. We must not return to packed hospitals, shocking death rates, and disabled people facing intensive medical procedures without the full presence of their support networks. We cannot afford more of the educational and job losses that hit disabled and/or BIPOC individuals particularly hard. We cannot expect essential workers with conditions like Down Syndrome, cancer, asthma, COPD and diabetes to risk their lives on every shift. We cannot ask the members of our community with weakened immune systems to shelter in place, excluded from their communities.
One of the lessons of lockdown was that isolation kills, too. We have to prevent more suffering and death among disabled people. We have to bring this pandemic to an end as quickly as possible. The best way to do that is for everyone who can to get vaccinated.
There is still hope
There are three safe, effective, free COVID vaccines available in North Carolina. The pandemic will end when enough of the population is resistant to COVID that the virus has a difficult time finding people to infect. We can either get that resistance through vaccination or through letting COVID spread.
If we choose the latter, there will be many preventable deaths, mostly of people with disabilities, people of color, and essential workers in lower-wage jobs.
Vaccination is the way to avoid more sickness, more isolation, more unemployment and lost time in school. Vaccination will help prevent damage to the healthcare system, local economies, and the fabric of our families and communities. The COVID-19 vaccines are very safe, and significantly better than having COVID. For vaccinated people with healthy immune systems, breakthrough cases are usually annoying, not dangerous.
DRNC is doing everything we can to ensure households with a disability in North Carolina can access the vaccines, to save lives and break COVID’s grip on our state. DRNC’s vaccination events have helped roughly 75 people get their shots so far, including two people with disabilities who received in-home appointments. Our effort is ongoing, and DRNC is working with several counties that have low vaccination rates to hold more vaccine information and access events across the state in the coming weeks.
Masks and COVID variants
While we strive to get this deadly pandemic under control, we must understand that there are highly contagious variants circulating in our state, and lives are in peril. Because the virus has become so contagious, it is essential to wear high-quality masks. A thin, cloth mask is better than nothing, but double-masking or a KN95 is preferable. If you or a loved one is having trouble finding or affording good masks, please reach out to DRNC. We may be able to share resources with you. Remember to be careful if you have in-person contact with someone who is high-risk or immunocompromised.
We can all do our part to help
The numbers are scary right now, but we are not defenseless. Unlike last year at this time, it is within our power to end this pandemic. We know more. We have effective vaccines. We have tools to effectively fight against the coming surge:
- Get vaccinated if you are able.
- Encourage people you know to consider vaccination.
- Spread good quality information about COVID and vaccines.
- Watch for changes in guidance as we learn new information about the virus
- Protect yourself and others: wear masks in crowded settings, especially indoors, even if you are vaccinated.
Do what you can to promote your own wellbeing, because the next few weeks may be a difficult time. This pandemic is an unprecedented hardship, but we can get through it together. You can depend on DRNC to continue advocating for the rights of people with disabilities and doing all we can to protect the disability community.