When Doing Everything Right Goes Wrong (1 of _)

Let me start by saying, please continue to try to do the right thing.

I want to try to put into words what it feels like to be a person who has been told that if you do things a certain way, if you follow the rules, if you listen to your leaders, and if you do so earnestly, you will be rewarded. It doesn’t have to be a huge reward — we don’t get parades thrown in our honor for coughing into our elbows (though that one guy who landed a plane in the Hudson did get a medal), but there is some positive outcome. In this case, the outcome was less people dying from a virus that scientists and medical professionals didn’t know how to treat yet.

On Monday, March 16, 2020, I was at my job at a small neighborhood dance school when Mayor Latoya Cantrell of New Orleans, LA, announced that our city would be going into lockdown because of Covid-19. At this point, I hadn’t ordered reusable masks, but I did skip a trip out of town the prior weekend out of precaution. Rumors were spreading, hospitals were filling up, and deaths had become frequent enough that we were hearing the word “global pandemic.”

To summarize my life pre-Covid, I had returned to college to finish my last 3 semesters after a 6 year hiatus, just last November. I had left a job where I had earned seniority and promotions as a legal assistant and marketing director in just 2 years. I was financially supporting myself with a combination of my admin staff position at a dance school, a contractor position as a substitute teacher a handful of times a month, and student loans. I was, from most of my family and friends’ perspectives: making moves to correct past mistakes. I’d completed 2 years of therapy where a major theme of my distress was feeling out of control or isolated because of my mental illness.

And now I was being sent home from work after my partner called and said they had just been fired, along with a majority of their coworkers, because businesses were closing across New Orleans.

In the days that followed, we did the things everyone around us was doing: rearranged furniture, painted watercolors, read books, took long walks, spent time outside on our porch. I personally posted pictures of my cat 5-7x each day as a distraction for myself and others during the 2 week lockdown Governor John Bel Edwards had ordered after basically grounding all the students in the state of Louisiana. This, in itself, was unprecedented for my generation. The last time schools had been closed that long in my memory was during Hurricane Katrina. While I was out of school for 6 weeks, with worse impacted areas out longer, but still others in the state were able to continue as scheduled.

At this point, we didn’t know much. But we were starting to feel the long-term effect of a disaster. Mutual aid groups immediately popped up. There were more unemployment program applications than ever before. My partner and I stayed on the phone trying to file our initial appointments for a combined 20 hours. The websites and systems that had been set up were destined to fail, they were not set up for this. And even worse, they excluded a large part of the workforce – especially in New Orleans’ main industry – tourism. Bartenders, freelancers, dog walkers, Uber and Lyft drivers – no one was financially secure, or knew what would come the next day. All of these people had thought of how they’d survive, how they’d pay rent in April, how they’d pay for gas the next week, how they would pay for the bus tomorrow. But then all of a sudden, the plans weren’t going to work anymore.

Suddenly, none of the rules really applied anymore. Individuals were encouraged to stay home, just as City Hall encouraged businesses to work from home, or to shut down temporarily. We began to see the reality that goes unnoticed by those with power to change it — individuals will be ruled by the government, but businesses will be given “suggestions” for how to operate. My generation has seen this a handful of times since our childhood. Businesses get bailouts. Individuals are advised to have 6 months of savings in case of emergency. Percentages fly around of how few Americans are $1000 away from a financial crisis. But when the airplanes stopped flying, checks were signed.

Even now, 9 months later, headlines are revealing that fast food restaurants like Taco Bell got billions in small-business relief.

To be continued.

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