By Alexis Wiley
The last place you want to be during a pandemic is the hospital. But that’s exactly where I found myself March 16, my 37th birthday – alone in the emergency room after experiencing symptoms of what I feared was a miscarriage. COVID-19 protocol forced my husband to wait in the parking lot while medical staff isolated me from sick patients. In between tests, I could hear coughing in the distance, and while I had no clue whether those patients were fighting the virus, the mere thought of it terrified me.
Thankfully, I was sent home early the next morning. False alarm. While I made it out, many never did.
Seven days later, a good friend of mine – a man not much older than me who appeared to be the picture of health – died of COVID-19 after spending days fighting for his life on a ventilator. His death was followed by a steady stream of other friends and professional associates, most of them young and Black, their bright futures snuffed out by a mysterious virus. Then I started to hear from Black friends who lost loved ones, one after another. The weeks that followed were marked by so much grief for so many. I suspect that grief made many particularly agreeable to the Stay at Home orders that followed. We knew that what we weren’t just fighting for our livelihoods, we were fighting for our lives.
While many Black Michiganders know intuitively that we’re paying a disproportionately high price during the pandemic, a statistic I heard on a recent workday conference call validated fears. According to a recent analysis of death statistics, Black people account for 65% of all deaths of Michiganders under the age of 60, despite being just 14% of the state’s population and 23% of Metro Detroit’s population. Consider this a warning: If you are Black and under 60 years old, COVID-19 is stalking you.
Thanks to the steps we’ve taken and the sacrifices we’ve made, Michigan flattened the curve and the calls and texts about people in the hospital or on their death bed began to slow. We are beginning to establish a new normal – a world where work looks different and spending time with our friends and family requires extra precautions and even video technology.
But now I fear we’re going backwards. It’s disturbing to see a growing number of people in restaurants, bars, stores, and other public places either not wearing masks or wearing them on their chins, where they’re completely worthless. We can’t forget what we’ve been through. We can’t afford to refill our hospitals and emergency rooms.. We can’t lose more talent. We can’t lose more friends and loved ones. This friendly warning isn’t just for my peers. If you’re young and white, you’ve got to be careful, too, because while this virus may not be killing, proportionately, as many young white people, it could kill someone you love, someone you’re not ready to lose.
Today, I’m just weeks away from my due date. As a new mother to be, I will take this pandemic seriously. When I’m out, you won’t have to ask me to wear a mask or stay an appropriate distance from those outside my household. I have too much to lose and too much good work to do. And, so do you.
Alexis Wiley is the chief of staff to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. She’s part of a coalition of civic leaders encouraging Michigander to help reopen the state economy safely and encourage citizens to continue to wear masks and stay safe.