The COVID 19 virus pandemic is having a very strong effect on people located in New York City, New Jersey, California, and many other states. Efforts to contain the virus and keep it at a manageable level to prevent overwhelming of the healthcare system are currently underway. In New York, as you surely know, all non-essential businesses have been closed, all gatherings of any type and of any number of people have been banned, and outdoor activities are limited to those which are solitary or where social distancing can be practiced. Social distancing, a new term in our culture, is now being practiced everywhere.
As part of the new executive order, the PAUSE action, there is also a provision specifically aimed at the elderly, who are the most vulnerable to complications related to this disease. These people have been instructed to stay inside unless absolutely necessary, and to limit contact with others. Matilda’s Law outlines the specific requirements made for the elderly, and the rules of this law for those over 70 are as follows, from Governor Cuomo’s press release located at https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-new-york-state-pause-executive-order:
- Remain indoors;
- Can go outside for solitary exercise;
- Pre-screen all visitors and aides by taking their temperature and seeing if person is exhibiting other flu-like symptoms;
- Do not visit households with multiple people;
- Wear a mask when in the company of others;
- To the greatest extent possible, everyone in the presence of vulnerable people should wear a mask;
- Always stay at least six feet away from individuals; and
- Do not take public transportation unless urgent and absolutely necessary.
Due to these very restrictive regulations placed upon elderly individuals, it is important that New Yorkers, and Americans in general, start adopting some selflessness with regard to their neighbors. We have all seen the panic buying that occurred at local supermarkets in Italy and across Europe, and quickly spread here, with people hoarding toilet paper, hand sanitizer, bleach, canned goods of all kinds, and other non-perishable (and perishable) items.
However, during this very same time, those who were part of the most vulnerable populations among us, were terrified of going to the store and possibly getting sick. The journalist who captured the viral photo of an elderly woman standing in front of empty grocery shelves in Australia just before she burst into tears, said, “This captures who is suffering from the me-first, unnecessary, trend of panic buying,” wrote Seb on Twitter, adding that the woman was ‘in tears’.
Thanks for the amazing response to this! Turns out people do care. Does anyone recognise her? We’ve been overwhelmed with offers to help her out and I’d love to pass some of it on…. https://t.co/mfuB31azZh
— Seb Costello (@SebCostello9) March 20, 2020
Another Twitter, Gavin Wakerelll (@Gavin_Wakerell) user posted a reply to Seb’s post that his daughter had come across the same situation, and she helped the woman to get whatever groceries they could: “My daughter came across a similar scenario here in Hobart. My daughter proceeded to assist the elderly lady with her shopping, getting what they could. #proudfathermoment #stopthepanicbuying #helptheelderly”
Here on Staten Island, the local Shoprite of Forest Avenue has instituted several policies to combat this trend, including limiting bread, milk, eggs, toilet paper, and water to one per shopper, and eliminating all returns for items. Other stores have done the same. If you purchase it, you must keep it.
This article does not just apply to the elderly. Some of those who are normally considered the most vulnerable, especially those who are living in poverty or just above the poverty line, have been largely forgotten. How many individuals who are on food stamps were able to go to the store and stock up on weeks’ worth of food? How many individuals and families who relied upon food pantries for food were able to stock up on enough food to last them through this crisis?
Most likely, not very many. As an unfortunate side effect of this COVID 19 issue, some of the local food pantries have been closed. One such food pantry on Staten Island is the St. Edward Food Pantry, operating out of Mount Loretto. While I do know that the food pantry at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on the opposite side of the island is still open, others may not be. And as far as St. Edwards, they have not updated their Google Business listing to reflect this. As a result, many Staten Islanders who were hungry and in need likely showed up this morning, only to leave empty handed.
Luckily for children who were students of local elementary through high schools, they can go to ANY local school and pick up food. In other words, school age children can go to whatever school is nearest them, even if it isn’t their assigned school, and pick up breakfast and lunch for themselves, every single day that school would normally have been open. So, children are being cared for. More families should be informed about this, so that everyone knows that their children will continue to be fed.
So, what can we, as New Yorkers do? First of all, check on your neighbors. Do you have an elderly neighbor that you know has no one? Many elderly people don’t have families that live nearby. They may not have been able to stock up on any food because of the Matilda Law, or for fear of being infected before it was enacted. Ask them if they need help.
Offer to shop for them, then you can leave the food outside their door and tell them it is there. Or follow the rules outlined above and wear a mask to bring it in for them and put the groceries away. This will go a long way to helping someone who is vulnerable and alone feel that someone cares for them. And they won’t run out of food while confined to their home.
If you know any families in your neighborhood, and you have the means to do so, ask them if you can buy them some non-perishable foods. This will mean that the adults in that family, and not just the children, will not go hungry during this very difficult time. Try to find out which of your neighbors are in need of food and basic supplies, such as water and toilet paper.
If you are one of those who stocked up in excess of your own need (and there are many people who did), perhaps you can share some of these supplies with your neighbors. There is no need to tell them how much you have. You can simply say that you have one extra package of toilet paper or case of water, and that you want to help them by giving it to them. This is especially important if you ask them and they tell you that they don’t have any.
The best way to help your neighbors, and to find out if they are prepared or in need of help, is to contact them by phone. If this is not possible, you can knock on their doors and speak to them outside (with the appropriate amount of distance between you) or through the door. There is no reason to endanger them or yourself, but there is a real need for all New Yorkers to stick together. Perhaps we can use this crisis to bring our communities together, in much the same way as the events of 9-11 did, instead of using this crisis to tear us all apart.
It has been quite unfortunate to see that this situation has in many cases brought out the worst in people. I have family members who have been threatened by people in stores for buying the last package of toilet paper, and there have been fights over essential goods and items in grocery stores around the world. It would be so much better if we all realize that we are in this together, and that working together to help one another means that more people will survive and fewer people will get sick.
As the governor said in his press release, “…But again, I want to remind New Yorkers that the panic we are seeing is outpacing the reality of the virus — and we will get through this period of time together.” The Australian Prime Minister also told people to stop hoarding essentials, saying, “Stop it. It’s not sensible, it’s not helpful and I’ve got to say, it’s been one of the most disappointing things I’ve seen in Australian behavior in response to this crisis. That is not who we are as a people,”
Let us all take the words of the governor, the Australian Prime Minister, as well as other world leaders, to heart, and start helping each other out. Whether you can help your family and friends, which likely includes elderly people, or many more of your neighbors, we should let this crisis bring out the best in us. As others, including the Pakistani Minister of Finance have said, “We are better than this.” Do not let this crisis bring out the worst in you; instead prove that we are, indeed, better than this microscopic virus, and that we won’t let it destroy our humanity.