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The great equalizer – COVID-19

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Shelter in place has been in effect for eight weeks now. 

The new normal is now upon us. The scenes of barren paper goods aisles in the retail chains, N-95 masks being worn in the grocery stores, restaurants being forced to dish up take-out, empty school grounds, and the government dictating your freedom are now a part of our daily lives. 

The pandemic has hit the global market at full force, collapsing the economy as we know it. Sending us on a downward spiral towards the worst recession known to mankind. Graduating students are entering a job market with little opportunity for employment. Federal, state, and local governments have all mandated a stay at home policy and radical freedom patriots are standing on the capital with AK-47s. 

During my lifetime, I have witnessed several crises in the world. I was born into a world that was still grieving the effects of the Vietnam War and the loss of over 58,000 American soldiers. In the ‘70s I remember waiting for what seemed like hours to fill our station wagon with gas during the Energy Crisis. The ‘80s brought Reaganomics, the Iran-Iraq War, and the death of over a half a million, with at least a million more injured and costing $1 trillion.  

From the ’90s to the current times, we have seen the Gulf War, Rwanda Genocide, War on Terrorism, Ebola, H1N1, and so much more all amounting to lives lost and the planet slowly dying from human greed and abuse.  At times, it feels like the apocalypse is upon us, slapping us in the face to wake up. Will each generation be faced with similar afflictions through their lifetime, thus defining their decade in the history books? 

I remember growing up in the ‘80s when a generation became scarred from a pandemic called AIDS. Like COVID-19 it spread like wildfire and infected thousands of people, mostly homosexual males. As with the coronavirus, HIV began to spread without any cure or medical insight, people were dying by droves and there was no explanation. Only that the virus was contacted sexually. Today with COVID-19, we are seeing a higher rate of transmission from person to person, and proving to be more deadly. 

Being a LGBTQ+ individual, I can tell you that being quarantined and sheltered in place is no different from being in the closet and living through the AIDS crisis.

You are probably asking yourself, “How can that be?”

For the the queer students who are forced to go home because college campuses have shut down, it may feel just like they never came out and have lost their freedom, similar to how I felt growing up as a teenager. Hiding in your room with little to no contact with the outside world, not being able to relate with others and keeping yourself a protective distance sure resembles shelter in place (the closet). 

Let me explain a major common trait between the two viruses that may help to clear things up. Both viruses attack the immune system but at different rates. Evidence proves that both diseases can infect the same cells, T-Lymphocytes and show a decrease in the blood count. 

Other commonalities government intervention came years laters for AIDS, and nurses were on the frontline fighting for their victims (sound familiar), similar to what is happening today with COVID-19.

Funny how history repeats itself.

Both viruses required masks and gloves to be worn to help prevent the spread of the disease. Wearing masks in the gay culture indicates living a lie and hiding from your true self. The LGBTQ+ community has been forced through the years to hide behind metaphorical masks for many reasons: losing your job because of your sexual identity, serving in the military with don’t ask don’t tell, and the fear of rejection from coming out by your families and friends. Masks ideally can be either seen as a sign of oppression or protection.

Let’s not forget the brave transgenders who for years have lived with the wrong identity. The irony comes from the fact that a mask or gloves (respectfully known as condoms), either worn or not, can be deadly.

Another similarity between the two evil pandemics is that there was no cure for the viruses when the outbreaks first occurred. Along those lines, both targeted minority groups; AIDS victims were homosexual males, and with COVID-19, black males.  

During a recent town hall meeting hosted by CNN about the coronavirus, legendary basketball player Magic Johnson, who has been living with HIV for over 30 years, spoke about the importance of early detection and living with the virus.

“I’m here today to tell all minorities: You can get this virus, and you can die from it,” Johnson said. “Do everything you’re supposed to do. Stay at home. Keep yourself a safe distance from everyone.

“I first announced I had HIV almost 30 years ago,” Johnson continued. “There was only one drug, AZT, at the time, and now there’s over 30 drugs. Now people can really live a healthy life because of those drugs. With this coronavirus, hopefully, we can find a drug that can prolong life. But first we’ve got to make sure that every American can get tested. There’s a shortage of tests… The reason I’m still living is because of early detection. I had a physical, and it came up that I had HIV, and that saved my life.”

In the ‘80s, social distancing wasn’t even heard of.

Or was it?

Looking back at the decade, social distancing was really referred to as safe sex. It was a form of distancing yourself through sexual intercourse by wearing a glove or in layman’s term, a condom. Today the rules of distancing are evolving and soon we might even need to put on our armor before to protect ourselves daily. 

 With HIV and COVID-19, the virus is spread from person to person. One is a sexually transmitted disease that can also be spread by contact with infected blood, while the other is a respiratory virus contacted through air droplets.

And finally, the most important commonality between these two pandemics?  Dr. Anthony S. Fauci. A man who has fought on the front line for both HIV and COVID-19. Fauci’s approach to both viruses proved to be effective, due to his ability to convince the government about the importance of more testing and access to experimental drugs. 

Living through this crisis has definitely been a test and a learning curve for all of us. The rules keep changing day by day. Some people see the seriousness in the spread of the disease, while view this as a hoax is no different than the influenza. Death tolls have exceeded 9/11 within weeks since shelter in place started in New York City on March 20. As the deaths continue to increase with the pandemic, COVID-19 is writing a place in the history books, right next to World War II for the most deaths and casualties amounting to 418,500 Americans lives lost.

Currently, in the United States alone, there are over 1,400,000 total cases of COVID-19 with 84,332 deaths. But, let’s face it, numbers don’t lie. People are dying, and the disease doesn’t discriminate who it attacks.