Martin: Human life is worth more than getting back to business

I have seen many difficulties in my life. Some undeserved — a product of being born poor in an unstable family unit. I have also made many mistakes that have led to repercussions, both emotional and physiological in nature.

I was homeless for years. I have feared for my life many times. But nothing comes close to the mental trauma that the COVID-19 crisis has brought me.

I’ve never felt so scared, worried, angry and absolutely powerless in all my life.

An overreaction? I hope so.

Every morning for the last two months I have watched COVID-19 updates on television because it’s important I stay informed — even if it causes me some anxiety. Amazingly, the warnings have gone from mild to urgent in short order. We’ve seen officials tell us the responsible thing to do is leave the face masks for health care workers, only to later mandate that everyone wear them. Calls to stay distant from others and stay home have more recently evolved to the chilling statement that, “it’s not a matter of if, but when, one will contract this virus.”

I hope I am overreacting.

Comorbidities are very common in former and current homeless people who for years have traded health for survival in the streets. Cardiovascular disease and diminished lung capacity are as common as anxiety and depression in a population that faces daily persecution and vitriol in the best of times. Drugs, alcohol and tobacco are often used as a self-administered treatment to those mental ailments but result in the physical conditions I mentioned before. Homelessness is really a cycle from hell.

I suffer from hypertension, a congenital irregular heartbeat and other conditions that derive from a smoking habit and past drug use. These comorbidities can prove deadly in combination with a COVID-19 infection. For me, catching this virus would be a death sentence. What’s more, an outbreak in a shelter or a transitional housing facility like mine would be as dangerous as the nursing facility outbreaks we have seen in Santa Clara County.

Given this realization, I am being extremely careful not to expose myself to unnecessary risk. I only leave Second Street Studios to walk my dog. I always wear gloves and cover my face when I do leave. I insist that anyone around me stays 6-to-10 feet away from me at all times and I don’t get in the elevator unless it is empty.

People have gotten mad or offended when asked not to invade my space. But they should know that conversation from a distance works fine — and can save my life and theirs. I had been working through my depression with great success before this crisis hit, but these days the dread and anxiety have set me back some. It is hard to find the energy to get up from bed sometimes.

This is not a good situation in so many ways. But we have a responsibility to each other to stay the course.

I hope I am overreacting.

We all want to feed our children and families. And we are all tired of being under quarantine. But who will feed our children and families if we are infected with this deadly virus? If America goes back to work too soon, how many more of us will die when the next wave of COVID-19 comes through? If the Spanish Flu of 1918 offers any indication, the worst of this crisis may be yet to come.

As the governor mentioned last week, we cannot and will not go back to normal until the necessary preventative measures have been taken. We cannot take the next step in this recovery until tests are promptly available to determine and treat/isolate infection. I say a big hell no to “opening up America for business again” until there is a vaccine that can protect older people and people with underlying health issues from infection and untimely death. Don’t lift the restrictions yet. It is too soon.

I say the same to protesters putting their lives at risk and ensuring these measures will have to be extended. Your business is not more valuable than a life. Your love of personal freedom cannot supersede my right to live.

In a severe crisis such as this, the federal government very clearly has the power, resources and responsibility to ensure Americans will not lose their jobs, their businesses, places to live and that our families will have enough to eat. You might think that’s asking for handouts, but if help is not appropriate now, when would it be? Let’s all collectively ask Congress and the president to bail us out of this situation by providing the medical resources we need to survive through this pandemic and for our jobs and businesses to be spoken for once it is over.

I will end with this — may God bless our medical workers and the underpaid workers we now recognize as “essential.” May God bless those who have died because of COVID-19, as well as all the families suffering through the loss of a loved one.

Cecilia Martin is a resident at the Second Street Studios. She is a leader of Second Street Voices and is part of a group of formerly homeless columnists writing for San José Spotlight’s In Your Backyard column to shine a light on the homeless experience in Silicon Valley. 

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