I’ve heard a lot of people, usually conservatives, say that if COVID only kills elderly or sick high-risk people at high rates, then everyone else shouldn’t have to follow any preventative measures. The high-risk people should be the only ones who have to isolate.
The whole idea is pretty ableist. It implies that the lives of the high-risk should be sacrificed for the convenience and financial prosperity of everybody else. “But that’s not it,” they say. “High-risk people can still quarantine and be perfectly safe. I just shouldn’t have to change my lifestyle for something that doesn’t threaten me.”
Okay, so let’s take that as a premise: All high-risk people need to be able to isolate, all low-risk people should be completely unrestricted. What does that look like in reality, if we truly value the lives of the high-risk population?
First of all, there are more high-risk people than you think. Elders, cancer survivors, anyone with diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease; anyone immunocompromised, anyone with severe asthma or lung disease. That’s about 10% of the population (and I’m not even counting the moderate-risk folks for whom COVID is still more deadly than the flu). Those people need to be able to stay at home, completely isolated, because everyone else is taking no precautions at all. Therefore, we need to provide them their salaries–remember, many of them are working and they can no longer work outside the home–as well as make sure their medical needs are cared for safely. We also need to deliver their groceries and other home necessities. They will need to be given legal assurance that their jobs will be there for them when they leave isolation, and that they will not have their utilities cut or be evicted.
For various reasons, many of the high-risk cannot stay entirely alone. They live in nursing homes or prisons; they need home health care workers; they need regular doctors’ visits; some are children living with families. These doctors and home health care workers are now making house calls, since the people going for normal checkups are taking no precautions. To keep the high-risk safe, all doctors, home-health care workers, prison staff, and nursing home staff will also need to isolate completely. They will need the same precautions and support as a high-risk person. Also, they will not be able to interact with low-risk people taking no precautions. That means that doctors will now need to be divided up between those seeing high-risk patients (and isolating) and those seeing low-risk patients. You are likely to need to change doctors.
Let’s break up a few families while we’re at it. Any high-risk people, medical, or residential center staff living with family have a choice: Their entire families can go into isolation (as above: No working outside the home, no going into public spaces whatsoever), or they can find an apartment outside their home, move out, and isolate there, or move to specially designated hotels, where all of the residents are isolated. All of the hotel staff will have to isolate, too, of course. All those who work in a prison, nursing home, or as a home-health care worker, won’t see their families until herd immunity unless their families isolate totally with them. And they’ll need most of the same services: Grocery delivery, high-risk medical care, and free rent or hotel bill.
Of course, after the pandemic ends, everybody who has been in isolation will need help getting back to work. They’ll need financial assistance not just until herd immunity, but until they’re able to find another job or return to their old one. Some may never be able to return, since younger people have simply taken their positions; so we had better make sure they don’t starve.
Now, if you don’t want to do this set-up, that’s fine. But it’s the only way to protect high-risk people while allowing low-risk people to take no precautions whatsoever. If you don’t support it, though, either admit that everybody has to take precautions, or admit that you don’t think high-risk people’s lives are worth inconvenience and lowered profits.