The Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Rochelle Walensky, knows very well that Americans have been experiencing a low-level, slow-burning trauma for over a year and a half. Trauma, resulting from living with the uncertainty of the safety of our next breaths and confusion often caused by the constant changing guidance from her agency, beginning back during the last administration.
Socially distanced, masked, and afraid for a year and a half, and one day you just say, “it is safe to take off your mask indoors and outdoors and get together in groups if you are fully vaccinated,” expecting things to go back to the way they were pre-COVID-19 pandemic? I don’t know who posted it first to social media, but IDCWTCDCSYBWYMFM.
This naked announcement, during Mental Health Awareness Month, without consideration for how it would be received beyond the evening BREAKING NEWS cycle is more than just reckless, it is cruelly insensitive, and is based on an arrogant reliance on the analysis of quantitative data without the qualitative analysis of the impact an announcement like this would have on a nation of people living with varying degrees of mental and emotional wellness around this pandemic. It is also an affront to the front-line clinicians and staff who have worked unimaginable hours and witnessed the carnage of this plague to the human body and the human condition – exhausted, and many leaving the field.
After a year and a half of arguing, fighting, and combatting hoax cures, debates over masks mandates, super spreader events, people dying and being funeralized over FaceTime and Facebook, and enduring the last administration’s denial and poor handling of the early days of this scourge, the cavalier delivery of this almost, “In other news…”announcement is not a trauma-informed approach to the care of our nations citizens, but a reckless and rushed attempt at getting children back in the classroom in the fall, getting employees back into physical workspaces and duty stations, as corporations and the federal government continue to pay for leased empty spaces, while 100% telework seems to have worked better than anyone expected, and of course to sure up a wobbly economy. I have a very healthy respect for science and I appreciate the reporting of data-driven and evidence-based research findings, but this recent announcement and guidance comes without clear explanation of what is safe and why now and is without care and consideration of lived experiences in less than privileged spaces.
Even if school, work, and stabilizing the economy are the reasons for this abrupt call to snatch off our masks and be free - shoulder to shoulder, an agency that is looked to by so many for public health guidance at the community and individual level, could have done a much better job at rolling out trauma-informed messages aimed at first changing people’s perceptions and understanding of safety and what is safe as we move through this period and then calling for the slow change of behavior – as individuals, in small intimate groups, and then in larger group settings. This free for all approach, relying on faith that my neighbor will be honest about their vaccine status is cause for panic and further trauma. The CDC offers six guiding principles to a trauma-informed approach during public health emergencies that were not applied in this case. At the core is building trust, assurance of safety, communication and collaboration.
I guess because the shock and awe of a non-discriminating, lethal pandemic ripping through our families and communities has dissipated for now. What once made people wash their groceries with bleach is no longer demanding that we respect each other’s space. Many of us have become numb to the pain of these times. Gone are the frightful interviews from hospital corridors with nurses wrapped from head to toe in protective gear sharing in tearful disbelief the way that death came calling leaving them defenseless to save hundreds of their patients. I can’t remember the last time I saw a nurse recording her testimony from the safety of her car and longing to be home with their families. Today, an evening news reports of periodic spikes in communities here at home and in far away locations across the globe have become as mundane as the local weather report. And because as Americans we’ve been socialized to believe that our individualism is what keeps us rather than what kills us, people will be ripping off masks, moving and grooving like its 2019.
Not me. No, not me.