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Talking to a retail worker last week, I was reminded how privileged some of us are.

This worker had a slight stomach upset the week before, but their partner had not shaken it off. When the illness had gone on for five days with fever, they realized they needed to get tested for covid 19. They then isolated themselves at home until the test results came back. The town they are in has not had active cases for a couple weeks, so it seemed unlikely that was what it was, but still they had to stay home.

Sitting around worrying was hard partly because they have both been super busy working and adapting. This was their first experience of lock down. They had three days of doing nothing, never going out. Hearing how uncomfortable that was, I teased that they might as well get a taste of how the rest of us feel.

They lost three days pay. That is so much less than most people. And their financial situation is such that three days lost income was not a burden. They got a taste of lockdown life, but they have mostly been privileged to keep working, to keep earning.

Living in a rural area, we've been privileged too. We can get outside in our own yard. We can walk down the road without worrying about getting too close to people. We pass each other on opposite sides of the road with a quick greeting, though sometimes with people we know well, it takes an effort to keep the proper distance. Not getting around more, I have felt isolation. I feel cut off from the usual clues about what people are thinking. But with groceries delivered or ordered online for pick-up, it has not been hard to keep quarantine.

How do people with special dietary needs cope? One try with an online order was probably enough. The small mistake of giving us vanilla yogurt instead of plain doesn't matter. But someone who has to be specific in what they eat has to be choosey, has to shop for themselves.

My husband is retired. He's had his career. He isn't like younger academics who are looking for a job in  institutions that are severely stressed by lost income and cut backs. Colleges and universities are talking about laying off tenured faculty, not hiring.

People who normally rely on home care have cut back to a minimum or cut off the help completely. A nurse or PSW who goes from house to house puts themselves at risk, and may bring contagion with them. I know people who are working to cope for themselves where they had help before.

For many, the financial stresses are huge. Some are able to work from home (with kids in the house, this can be challenging!), but most had reduced hours or their work went on hold. Yes, there are government programs, but will they be scaled for a partial, slow return? People counting on the help don't know. Postponing rent and student loans and property taxes is not forgiveness of the money owed. These will come due. Lost hours won't come back.

Kids are home. They are feeling isolated and not really understanding what is going on. Some are keeping up with school work. A few are getting ahead. Many will have to catch up on three lost months come September. Also, when fall arrives, first year college and university courses will likely be online. How do kids make that difficult adjustment from high school to post-secondary work alone? How many are facing the choice to put their plans on hold for a year?

When we look at the global south, the stresses increase. My daughter wonders how people eat in Ghana where there are no grocery stores, and markets are closed. When we remember poorer people in our own country--families crowded into small apartments, people in shelters--we realize that life is a huge challenge for many.

People I talk to say that they are getting by okay. In many ways, that is a statement of privilege. They have the resources to see this through. I worry about those who were already stretched to the breaking point, and now are lost to our view as we stay home. Do we trust that everyone is okay, or are we actively checking in on and helping those who are the most vulnerable?

Cathy Hird lives on the shore of Georgian Bay


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