A Postcard from Albuquerque

1 June 2020

by Kaatje van der Gaarden

Albuquerque Mayor Keller, like most politicians, is mistaken. In emails to his denizens, he declares “We’re in this together, because… we are One Albuquerque.” Uh, no. Those with mental or physical disabilities too young to benefit from Senior Resources will find no help at the city’s website. When my caregivers stopped showing up I lied to the non-profit Mutual Aid that I was a senior citizen, just so they’d pity me and drop off a roll of toilet paper and two packages of ramen noodles. Which is more than migrant and day labourers in India have, so I’m grateful.

Yet at this point, no-one can deny the long-term effects of lockdown: domestic violence, suicide, child abuse, poverty and despair. Hundreds of thousands of special needs children require in-person education and socialization: online learning is not an option, neither is it for those in an unstable family without laptops, tablets or a reliable internet connection. As a (disabled) Dutch-American Physician Assistant I was already alarmed at the state of US mental health – in the last twenty years, our suicide rate has increased by 35% to an exceptional annual total of 48,000 deaths.

We must acknowledge the poor in Level 3 and 4 countries are experiencing a massive decline in maternal health care, TB, pneumonia, malaria medications and children’s vaccinations, while facing increased police brutality and hunger. Even a Level 1 country like the United States sees the secondary effects of the lockdown via untreated cardiovascular emergencies such as strokes and heart attacks. US preventive health care has always been problematic, but lack of cancer treatment and diagnoses? Not acceptable, even in a greatly exaggerated pandemic.

The lockdown causes unprecedented brain drain: medical clinics with providers nearing retirement will choose to close, other clinics will simply shut down. And we are losing experienced mechanics, welders, electricians, event organizers, suppliers and small business owners – the backbone of US society and GDP. Annually, 35–40 million Americans are infected with the flu, requiring up to 800,000 hospitalizations. The case fatality rate (CFR) of 0.1% leads to tens of thousands of deaths, mostly the elderly and the very young. Yet only 45% of adults obtain a yearly flu shot. What ought to really scare politicians is that a yearly flu vaccine is not mandatory for US health care providers – not even for home carers and nursing aides, who provide extensive personal care such as bathing and dressing.

How is it that my friend’s mom isn’t allowed to visit her dying husband in a nursing home due to COVID-19 orders, while many of his nursing aides and carers don’t even have a flu shot? And why did my boyfriend’s grandmother die alone on the Navajo Reservation (of non-COVID-19 causes) without his mum – a nurse – being able to say goodbye, despite wearing PPE? Meanwhile, research showed a CFR of 0.03% for 14,000 COVID-19-positive health care workers in the Netherlands. Six of the nine who died were between 45 and 69 and had existing health conditions, and they are still investigating the remaining three. Incidentally, thanks to a targeted Dutch public health campaign, healthcare workers now have a 70–80% annual flu and H1N1 vaccination rate.

My own lockdown saga has a mixed happy ending: I did receive that “One Albuquerque” kindness our Mayor brags about, albeit through personal connections, not my city’s website. But not everyone with severe disabilities or pre-COVID-19 isolation is that lucky. Because of the extra help and caregiving by neighbors and friends I ended up with a little excess energy. So despite a neuroinflammatory disease I volunteered at a COVID-19 test site where pharmacists, volunteers and nurses sat around picnic tables chatting amicably, without masks, during breakfast and lunch. As someone who has been mostly bed-bound the last few years I know how cruel and demoralizing isolation, despair and poverty are, so I urge our politicians to do the right thing: end the lockdown now, without nonsensical measures such as plastic shields in stores, face masks and mandatory six-feet distancing.

Studies show that prolonged stay-at-home orders aggravate mental health disorders, decrease our immune systems, and may prevent herd immunity. Most worryingly, the lockdown is destroying our societal and global fabric. Segregate and protect the elderly and those at risk, maintain voluntary distancing and use masks and gloves as needed, and let people decide whether or not they want to risk going to a store. Being alive comes with all sorts of risks that we normally accept, yet COVID-19 scared politicians and the media into a panic which they turned into propaganda. According to Professor Hans Rosling, M.D. – instrumental in the Ebola epidemic – panic and hysteria never lead to good decision making. Mentally, I’ve only been able to make it through by following Reddit/lockdownskepticism and subscribing to Lockdown Sceptics.

The lockdown did end up affecting me badly: I haven’t been able to use my hydrotherapy pool for weeks, which worsens my severe spinal cord inflammation, and I’m now denied access to pain medication. My father passed away on March 9th and my mother isn’t allowed to fly in from overseas – a cruel and bad decision, since air travel and commerce ought to resume immediately. I’m not an expert, but I graduated from a technical college and am blessed with an abundance of common sense and compassion. By the end of March, I’d tweeted that Dr John Ioannides’ views ought to be considered, and I correctly predicted this inhumane global tragedy. So why didn’t our politicians and journalists see the truth, and, why is this security theatre still going on? Could it be that our leaders know, but refuse to admit they were wrong?

Sadly, history will prove that politicians, experts, social media companies and journalists were directly responsible for the deaths, suffering and censorships caused by the lockdown. I have nightmares from waking up in a world where no one understands the difference between linear expansion and the natural Bell curve, or Farr’s Law, or percentages. To me, this year and this coming decade will always be known as “COVID-1984” and the destruction of our world.

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