WASHINGTON, D.C. — The coronavirus pandemic has affected virtually every American at some point over the past year, but there are some groups in U.S. society for whom the effects have gone unnoticed, Catholic Social Ministry Gathering participants were told Feb. 8.
The comments came during a program hosted by Bread for the World, one of the gathering’s major sponsors.
Essential workers, health care workers and deaf Americans have had their lives altered by the virus, as a panel of speakers asserted.
Essential workers are “still going to work every day” and “haven’t missed a day at work,” said Kimberly Mazyck, relationship manager for national partnerships at Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency. “While we’re working from home, for them it’s not possible,” she said.
“Many of us still eating the way we ate before,” but for essential workers, “they may not have those nutrients on their own tables,” Mazyck added, noting a pantry worker was slated to be part of the panel, “but she couldn’t be here today because she had to work.”
In a video, nurse Renee Bradley of Brooklyn, New York, said: “My experience has been incredibly trying in so many ways. This pandemic has definitely challenged me and made things difficult for me, mainly emotionally and mentally.”
Bradley said she started to exhibit COVID-19 symptoms last April, “but at the time they were not testing health care workers, and testing was not as prevalent as it is now.” She had to use sick time to recuperate, but did not have enough time banked before a scheduled vacation time came up. Bradley said her employer told her, “I guess you have to come to work if you have no fever.”
She added, “There was a four- to five-month span where I did not see my mother at all. I am an only child from a single-parent house, so to say my mother and I are close is an understatement.
“When I did go home, Bradley said, “I refused to hug my mother, I refused to touch my mother. I could not grapple with the idea that I could give my mother the virus, somehow, some way. After six or seven months, my mother gave me a hug for the first time, and she broke down in tears.”
Bradley added, “I don’t think the masses understand the level of psychological and emotional trauma. I am also beyond disappointed the way the government has responded to the pandemic.”
While she wants to “give credit where credit is due,” Bradley said, “It feels like a genuine slap in the face to be bypassed in the stimulus.”
She added she is “trying to abide by something I saw in a Christian bookstore: ‘While life gets too hard to stand, kneel.'”
Father Shawn Carey, head of the deaf apostolate for the Archdiocese of Boston, speaking in American Sign Language with a voice interpreter, said: “COVID has impacted the people in my community by making them feel very isolated — especially deaf senior citizens, and deaf-blind folks who use tactile American Sign Language in their hands to communicate.”
The word that springs time and again to Carey’s mind, he said, is “disconnected.” “I’ve noticed more and more people feeling a sense of anxiety and paranoia,” he added. “I reach out to people on my videophone … so I’m doing the best that I can.”
His advice for Catholic Social Ministry Gathering participants is to ask what people need.
“Never assume that you know what someone else needs. The first thing to do is to go directly to the people that you serve and ask them what they need,” he said. “When you approach someone with a mask on, it can be very hard. If you have it, you can use text to go back and forth in a socially distanced way. Be aware of those communications challenges.”
COVID-19 has its own economic impact in the deaf community, he said.
“Many people that I know are involved in the school for the deaf. Some of them are teachers. Others have been impacted for sure, because they didn’t get the stimulus check, or they’re just struggling to make ends meet,” he said, adding Massachusetts has a Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing that can intervene for deaf residents of the commonwealth.