Health

Another Round of Stimulus Checks Is Coming, But Some Families May Fall Through the Cracks

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With fewer than two weeks remaining before Congress’ expanded federal unemployment benefits expire, lawmakers are racing to finish their latest COVID-19 relief package, which passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 27 before heading to the Senate. The legislation, known as the American Rescue Plan, extends that unemployment program, and also includes a new child care tax credit and rent payment assistance. For many Americans, though, the most anticipated provision is another round of $1,400 direct checks.

But who will get those checks—and how much money they’ll actually get—has been a sticking point. While many Democrats and some economists have argued that the program should cast as wide a net as possible, Republicans and conservative Democrats have argued that people with higher incomes should not receive the money. In order to get the overall plan through Congress, President Joe Biden has signed off on a proposal to lower income limits on the checks, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

The new, Biden-approved proposal gives the full $1,400 per person to individuals earning less than $75,000 and joint filers earning less than $150,000, unchanged from the House bill. But partial payments would completely phase out at $80,000 for individuals (down from $100,000 in the House bill) and at $160,000 for joint filers (down from $200,000). The Senate version is expected to pass by the end of the week, at which point the legislation would go back to the House for approval.

Limiting the program will reduce its overall cost, as well as better target those seen as most likely to be struggling because of the pandemic. Studies of the prior pandemic checks have shown that unneeded cash ended up in some recipients’ savings accounts—when the first pandemic checks were issued last April, higher-income recipients were more likely to save the money than spend it, according to an August analysis from the National Bureau of Economic Research. “The more targeted [the population], the more bang for your buck,” says Alejandra Grindal, a senior international economist at investment strategy firm Ned Davis Research.

But lowering the thresholds presents some problems. For one, some Americans who previously received checks will no longer qualify, even though they may still need help. Additionally, with COVID-19 case numbers falling, vaccines rolling out and businesses reopening, it’s possible that higher-income earners would have spent their next check in ways that weren’t possible earlier in the pandemic. If that happened, the checks could do double duty as a relief measure for struggling families as well as a stimulus for the economy overall. But if fewer financially stable families receive checks, the program may not have as much of an economy-boosting effect.

Another round of big, broad-based checks would have been a huge help for people like Stephanie Bonin, whose Denver restaurant, Duo, struggled to survive when Colorado closed all restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms and casinos last year to reduce viral spread. Bonin, 44, started a petition on Change.org calling on Congress to support $2,000 in monthly checks for the duration of the pandemic. That didn’t happen, but Congress did authorize an initial round of $1,200 to eligible taxpayers in late March, and a $600 round in late December.

Duo got a bump in orders after those checks were issued, Bonin says. The patrons were people who didn’t need the money for rent or groceries, but were happy to spend it on a $19 duck confit appetizer or a $34 bison short rib entree—and thus helped keep Duo afloat. “[The checks] act differently for different people, and we need it all,” she says. “It’s a holistic world. It helps the small business, and they can pay employees.” Countless small businesses like Duo were also likely helped by the earlier checks in the same way.

It’s impossible to predict how this next round of checks might be used. Both the viral and economic situations have changed since the earlier payments were issued. COVID-19 cases are generally declining nationwide, meaning people may feel safer going out and spending their money. But at the same time, the long-term unemployment rate is higher than at any other time during the pandemic—nearing the record set following the Great Recession—suggesting even more people are now in dire financial straits. It’s also unclear how much extra economic stimulus will be necessary as virus restrictions are lifted—the U.S. personal savings rate is currently at a staggering 20.5%, up from 7.2% at the end of 2019, meaning some people have plenty to spend once they feel safe doing so.

“At some point, we will have the disease mostly licked and will want the economy to recover,” says Jonathan Parker, a professor of finance at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studied consumer behavior following the 2008 stimulus checks and the 2001 tax rebate checks. “Will we need stimulus to spur demand at that time? We’ve never seen this before, so we have no idea.”

As with the previous pandemic checks, it will only be possible to evaluate the next round’s effectiveness in hindsight. That means the checks have to go out first. While it’s possible to send a targeted set of checks now and then wait and see how the economy rebounds, economists like Parker point out that there may be less political will to pass another round of payments later on.

The more immediate concern is that lower income limits are bound to leave out some Americans who are already at risk of falling through the cracks. After all, income alone shows an incomplete picture of a person’s financial hardship, says Bradley Hardy, an associate professor of public administration and policy at American University, whose research focuses on economic well-being among low income populations. Moreover, many people’s circumstances have changed so much during the course of the pandemic that families may now be coping with new care-taking burdens, increased medical costs or other expenses that could make it more challenging to make ends meet, even if they haven’t lost income. “I’m more worried about missing a family that needs it than giving it to families who don’t need it,” says Hardy.

‘Tip Of the Iceberg’: Interpol Says Fake COVID-19 Vaccines Were Smuggled Across Continents

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By the time police discovered the shipment of fake COVID-19 vaccines, the vials had travelled over 6,000 miles from China to South Africa, the work of a smuggling ring that has produced thousands of counterfeit doses, according to Interpol, the global police agency that helped break up the operation.

The trafficking case, involving a shipment of at least 2,400 doses, is the first confirmed instance of fake vaccines being smuggled across continents, an Interpol spokesperson told TIME—though there are likely more that have occurred, and more still that may be uncovered in the future. “This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine related crime,” said Jürgen Stock, the agency’s secretary general, in a statement on March 3.

Interpol first issued a warning about such the potential for such crimes in early December, alerting law enforcement agents in its 194 member countries that criminal networks were trying to “infiltrate and disrupt supply chains” involved in the global rollout of vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

These networks are not expected to corrupt vaccination programs that are supplied by reputable companies and administered by national governments, which account for nearly all vaccines available around the world. But small batches of fake vaccines could reach consumers through the Internet or other informal channels, especially in developing countries that have been unable to get sufficient supplies.

The international smuggling ring that Interpol reported on March 3 began to unravel in November, when police in South Africa discovered a consignment of fake COVID-19 vaccines in a warehouse near Johannesburg. Police officials told local media at the time that the vials were found among a large batch of counterfeit N95 masks, and that two individuals were arrested in connection with the haul: one was a Chinese national, the other a citizen of Zambia.

At around the same time, Chinese state television aired footage of police seizing what they described as fake COVID-19 vaccines in Kushan, a city in eastern China. The authorities then arrested more than 80 members of a suspected criminal group, for allegedly producing and selling fake COVID-19 vaccines that consisted of saline solution, Xinhua news—a state-run press agency—reported on Feb. 1. Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, told reporters the following day that Chinese authorities had alerted “relevant countries” about the apparent smuggling ring, but did not specify what countries were involved.

It would be another month before Interpol revealed that some of the fake vaccines allegedly manufactured in China had made their way to South Africa, which has struggled to secure enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate its most vulnerable citizens. Nearly half of the COVID-19 deaths reported on the African continent have been recorded in South Africa, which only launched its vaccination drive on Feb. 17, far behind most developed nations.

China, by contrast, has said it delivered 24 million doses of two domestically made (and authorized) vaccines to its citizens as of early February. Despite concerns about the efficacy of the vaccines—one produced by Sinopharm, and one from Sinovac—the Chinese government has also pledged about half a billion doses of these vaccines to 45 countries around the world, according to a tally published by the Associated Press.

In addition to the arrests in China and South Africa, Interpol said in its statement on March 3 that it has received other reports from member countries about “fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health bodies, such as nursing homes.”

Interpol said it is continuing to work with police forces around the world to combat such scams. But the organization also urged consumers to be vigilant, pointing out in its statement that there are no approved vaccines currently available for sale online, and that any COVID-19 vaccines offered for purchase over the Internet “will not have been tested and may be dangerous.”

U.S. Will Have Enough COVID-19 Vaccines for All Adults by End of May, Biden Says

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the U.S. expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccines for all adult Americans by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, as his administration announced that drugmaker Merck & Co. will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved shot.

With the bolstered supply, Biden also announced he would be using the powers of the federal government to direct all states to prioritize vaccinating teachers, and said the federal government would provide the doses directly through its pharmacy program. He challenged states to administer at least one dose of the vaccine to all teachers by the end of March as part of his administration’s efforts to reopen more schools across the nation.

“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” said Biden, who likened the partnership between the two drug companies to the spirit of national cooperation during World War II.

The announcement comes as the White House looks to speed the production of the single-dose J&J vaccine and accelerate the nation’s plans to reach “herd immunity” in the U.S. and begin restoring normalcy after the pandemic. Biden noted that vaccine supply was only one bottleneck toward that goal, and that the new challenge will be injecting doses into arms as swiftly as possible.

To that end, the Biden administration told governors Tuesday to prepare for their supplies of vaccine to continue to climb over the coming weeks. Additional doses are also heading toward a federally backed program to administer doses in more accessible retail pharmacies.

Those pharmacies will be key in getting the vaccines into the arms of teachers, which will help reopen schools to better educate students who have been at risk at falling behind during the pandemic.

“Let’s treat in-person learning as the essential service that it is,” Biden said.

Biden had originally suggested that the supply would be enough to vaccinate every adult American by the end of July. But despite the good news, he was leery of predicting when the nation would return to normal. He said, “My hope is by this time next year we’re going to be back to normal,” adding that he maybe it could come sooner.

Officials have said J&J faced unexpected production issues with its vaccine and produced only 3.9 million doses ahead of its receiving emergency use authorization on Saturday. The company has promised to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also announced Tuesday that the federal government was increasing supply of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to states next week to 15.2 million doses per week, up from 14.5 million previously. States will also receive 2.8 million doses of the J&J shot this week.

On a call with governors Tuesday, White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said states should prepare for administering 16-17 million total weekly doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of March, climbing to 17-18 million weekly by early April. The supply of J&J doses to states, expected to dip after the initial shipment this week, will climb to 4-6 million weekly doses by the end of March and 5-6 million doses weekly through the end of April.

More than 800,000 doses of the J&J vaccine will also be distributed this week to pharmacies to administer in a separate federally-run program that also includes 2.4 million doses of the other two shots. Both figures are expected to steadily increase, as the White House increasingly looks to the capacity of pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens to help speed the nation’s mass vaccination campaign.

Facing questions about the company’s slipping delivery schedule, J&J Vice President Richard Nettles told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week that the company had faced “significant challenges” because of its “highly complex” manufacturing process.

The assistance from Merck was expected to help J&J meet its production commitments and expand supply even further, but the administration did not immediately provide specifics.

Psaki said that an “across the administration effort” was required to get the two historic rivals to work together on the vaccines, even though conversations between the two companies have been going on for months.

“There’s a difference between conversations and it moving forward,” she said.

President Joe Biden is set to highlight the development in a speech Tuesday afternoon, as his administration now expects to have enough supply of the three approved vaccines to inoculate all eligible American adults by June — though actually delivering the injections could take longer.

It was not immediately clear when the effect of Merck’s assistance would be reflected in supply. Previously, federal officials have cautioned that setting up the highly specialized manufacturing lines to produce vaccines would take months.

The White House said Merck would devote two plants to the production process. One would make the vaccine and the other would handle inserting the vaccine into vials and ensuring strict quality controls. Psaki said the Biden administration was using its powers under the Defense Production Act to help Merck retool to work on the production.

The news was first reported by The Washington Post.

Compared to the two-dose versions produced by Moderna and Pfizer, the J&J vaccine is less resource intensive to distribute and administer, making it a critical piece to U.S. plans to spread vaccinations around the world — but only once Americans are inoculated. The J&J vaccine can be stored for months at refrigerated temperatures, rather than frozen, and doesn’t require patients to return for a second dose three or four weeks later.

J&J has set up a global production network that includes brewing bulk vaccine at its Janssen facility in the Netherlands, and with a company in the U.S., Emergent BioSolutions, and another in India, Biological E. Ltd. Other contract manufacturers are lined up to help with later steps, including putting the vaccine into vials, in the U.S., Italy, Spain and South Africa.

In the scramble to create COVID-19 vaccines, the three Western drug makers who’ve dominated the vaccine industry for decades — Merck & Co., Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline — surprisingly all fell short. Merck halted its own plans to develop a coronavirus vaccine earlier this year, finding that their candidates were generating an inferior immune system response compared with other vaccines. It said it would instead focus its work on developing treatments for COVID-19.

Now, amid the global clamor for more vaccine doses, those heavyweights are helping manufacture doses for less-experienced rivals whose vaccines won the first emergency authorizations from regulators.

Merck has since said it was in talks to help other drug companies with vaccine production, but wouldn’t say Tuesday whether other deals are imminent.

“Merck remains steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic and to preparing to address future pandemics,” the Kenilworth, New Jersey-based company said in a statement.

Sanofi Pasteur, named for pioneering French biologist Louis Pasteur, produces more than 1 billion vaccine doses a year and is a leader in pediatric, influenza and polio vaccines. It, too, has had delays with its COVID-19 vaccine candidates. While it tries to resolve those problems, Sanofi has agreed to bottle and package about 125 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, as well as roughly 12 million doses per month of J&J’s vaccine.

GlaxoSmithKline, which makes vaccines against shingles, hepatitis, meningitis and many childhood illnesses, has focused its COVID-19 efforts on combining its adjuvant technology with rival companies’ vaccines. Adjuvants boost immune system response to vaccines, meaning smaller doses could be used and supply could be stretched.

___

Johnson reported from Fairless Hills, PA. Lemire reported from New York. Lauran Neergaard in Washington contributed to this report.

How to Raise Resilient Kids

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When the COVID-19 pandemic first forced schools and workplaces to close across the United States in March 2020, Charlotte Klopp, a mother of three in North Carolina, thought, like many, that the shut-downs would be short lived. “We thought that it would just be a few weeks or maybe a month and that life would resume as normal pretty quickly,” she says. As the pandemic stretched on for many months, she began to realize that she would need to be intentional about helping her kids weather the challenges that such a long period of stress and disruption can bring. “Sometimes they get frustrated that they can’t see their friends or do the things we used to do, but it’s important to me that they be able to think of the positives and try to grow from this experience,” says Klopp. “I want them to be resilient.”

Resiliency—the ability to bounce back from tough experiences—has been a buzzword during the pandemic as parents wonder how months of isolation, anxiety and boredom will impact their children in the long term. Luckily, there are things parents can do to help their kids protect themselves against the negative effects of stressful times. “Resiliency is a skill that can be learned, practiced and developed as kids grow,” says Allie Riley, who oversees programming and evaluation for Girls on the Run, a non-profit that helps girls develop social and emotional skills through physical activity. “It’s important because everyone will face challenges or setbacks at some point in their life, and when they’ve had the chance to develop their resiliency muscles, they’ll be better able to move through whatever their challenge might be.”

Parents should not expect their kids to naturally just be resilient; it’s a skill that can be learned and practiced. “Helping youth develop resiliency isn’t something parents can do in one day or with one conversation,” says Anthony James, director of the family science program at Miami University in Ohio. “It’s something that happens over time through dynamic parent-child interactions as parents make intentional decisions based on what abilities they desire to see their children exhibit over time.”

There’s no manual on raising resilient kids, but experts say some parenting strategies can make a difference, no matter what your family context is or what challenges your kids might be facing.

Be intentional

Parents often have an idea of the kind of person they want their child to be when they reach adulthood. Whether a strong work ethic, kind personality or positive outlook on life is highest on a parent’s wish list for their child, a guiding philosophy can help parents make choices that will move their child in that direction. “When parents identify resiliency as a trait they want their grown-up child to possess, and as something that will take time and practice to build, they can make the sort of day-to-day parenting decisions that will help their child build their resiliency,” says James. Knowing that they value resilience can, for example, help parents decide when to step in when a child expresses frustration about completing a school assignment or guide the way they introduce new skills and chores as a child matures. James likens the process to teaching a child to drive. “The ultimate goal is to have a child that is able to drive safely anywhere, but you don’t start them out on the freeway. Instead, you start small and help them work their way up.”

Teach kids to recognize and name their feelings

When kids can effectively recognize and name their emotions, they’re able to connect those emotions to specific strategies that will help them move forward in a healthy way. For example, kids might recognize that they’re feeling nervous and know that talking to a parent or caregiver can help them relax, or that they’re feeling angry and that going for a run can help them clear their head. This sort of emotional management is a key aspect of resiliency.

“One of the first steps in being able to regulate emotions is being able to name what we’re feeling,” says Riley. Parents can start when their kids are as young as toddlers by pointing out facial expressions and physical reactions and tying them to specific feelings. They might say, “Molly, your mouth is making a frown and your fists are squeezed tight—it looks like you’re feeling mad, is that right?” As kids mature, parents can continue to help their child identify the emotions they’re experiencing as a first step in brainstorming a response.

Foster supportive relationships

Positive relationships often serve as a buffer for the rough stuff in life. While parents shouldn’t try to orchestrate their kid’s whole social life, teaching them how to have healthy relationships will enable them to do so on their own. Parents can teach kids about relationships by talking about how they choose friends, how they act as a good friend and how they handle conflict. And when parents have these types of relationships themselves, children notice. “Kids learn a lot about the world by watching their caregivers,” says Riley, “so it’s also important to try to model the sort of relationship we want them to have.”

Teach kids to ask for help

A resilient person doesn’t always bounce back from tough situations all by themselves. Asking for help is critical, and it doesn’t always come naturally, especially for kids. “Asking for help and support is an important skill for kids and adults,” says James, “but it can feel hard to ask for help for a variety of reasons.” Parents can help kids learn to ask for help by modeling what that looks like in their life, being open about times they’ve needed support and being receptive and supportive when kids come to them for help.

Help kids develop a range of coping strategies

“It’s good to have one strategy to help you feel better when you’re experiencing uncomfortable emotions, but it’s even better to have a whole range of strategies in case one is not working or not possible,” says Riley. Parents can offer suggestions like taking deep breaths, talking with a friend or going for a walk. As a child gets older, parents can ask questions, like, “What do you think would help you feel calmer right now?” to help them discover what works best for them when times get tough.

Give kids a chance to practice their life skills

“Every parent wants to protect their children from the hard things in the world,” says James, “and while that’s understandable, protecting them from every hard thing doesn’t allow them to develop and practice the skills they need to be resilient or effectively navigate life’s challenges.” While it might be tempting for parents to call the coach who cut their kid from the team or deliver the homework binder their child left on the counter on their way to school, parents should consider the skills their child won’t get a chance to practice if they step in every time.

While stressful times are rife with downsides, they can also bring opportunities to hone resilience. Klopp says that her children are weathering the pandemic as well as can be expected, and they’re practicing new habits and skills to cope. “We have hard days sometimes, but we do our best to look on the bright side and be really mindful about the things we’re grateful for,” she says. The family has started spending more time in their backyard garden to relieve stress, and Klopp has used all the together time to teach her children how to be a little more responsible for their own belongings and space. “I think that our kids are developing some new skills and some new gratitude,” she says, “and I’m glad we’ve been able to help them do that.”

This County Tried to Ensure Racial Equity in COVID-19 Vaccinations. The State Said No

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It takes about eight minutes to try and save a life.

Or at least that’s how long it takes a volunteer with a tablet, standing in the parking lot at the T.R. Hoover Community Development center in South Dallas on a bitterly cold February morning. During the pandemic, the small nonprofit situated in the neighborhood that developers in the 1920s dubbed “the Ideal community” has taken on an ever evolving list of roles. It’s a job-search center. It’s a drive-through food pantry. And, of late, T.R. Hoover is an in-person coronavirus vaccine registration site aimed at helping Ideal’s mainly Black residents, and anyone else who finds their way here, do what for several weeks the county’s online-only registration system has failed to do: put them in line for a shot in the arm.

In January, as first national and then local news began describing the impending arrival of coronavirus vaccines, people visiting T.R Hoover’s drive-through food pantry started asking questions. Most were directed at executive director Sherri Mixon, who was born and raised in Ideal. It’s where she is, without question, a voice of authority, regarded as a repository of important knowledge, drive and information. What did she know about the shots? What did she think of the shots? How could they get a vaccine? Then, when could they get a vaccine, and how in the world could they get on the list for a shot?

<strong>“You see more Caucasian people than you do Black people and Hispanic people because, I don’t know if they got a chance to register first or what.”</strong><strong>“Everybody should be doing something to help amend some of the gaps.”</strong>Read more: We May Never Eliminate COVID-19. But We Can Learn to Live With It

On this Tuesday morning, Mixon stands wrapped in a plaid shawl and knit cap watching volunteers help those arriving for the food distribution. Her brother hoists orange net bags filled with potatoes, onions, grapefruit, tuna and other canned goods, as women equipped with iPads tell visitors they can help them register for vaccine appointments. Right here. Right now.

Around 11 a.m., a Black man in a pink surgical mask and forest green pickup truck rolls up and asks for help with registration. He’s 68 and has a “touch of high blood pressure but thank God, so far, no sugar [diabetes],” he tells a volunteer. She enters his name, address and health information that indicates he’s at high risk of contracting and dying of the coronavirus. She wears a blue mask beneath a face shield and, to make it easier to fill in the online form, one glove. It’s 29°F outside. The whole thing takes 7 min. 51 sec.

“Everybody should be doing something to help amend some of the gaps,” says Mixon.

Visitors to the T.R. Hoover center in South Dallas on Feb. 24 get help registering for vaccines.
Zerb Mellish for TIMEVisitors to the T.R. Hoover center in South Dallas on Feb. 24 get help registering for vaccines.

In Dallas County, and almost every other part of the nation, those gaps emerged in a vaccine rollout that aggravated rather than addressed inequities that have made the pandemic so much deadlier for some populations. In February, as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showed that Black, Latino and Native Americans were at least twice as likely as white people to die of COVID-19, it was white Americans who secured most vaccine doses. In the 23 states that try to track the race or ethnicity of those vaccinated, most reported white people were getting vaccinated at disproportionately high rates, according to a February analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Dallas County, which includes the city by the same name and other municipalities, is a case in point. Non-Hispanic white residents make up 28% of the population but were nearly 63% of those registered to receive vaccinations as of Jan. 24, about three weeks after online-only registration had opened to people ages 65 and up.

But when local elected officials tried to correct the situation—by prioritizing people in neighborhoods like Ideal, where the need was greatest—the state beat back their efforts, and Dallas County returned to age-based vaccine targeting. That delivered another advantage to white Americans, who tend to live longest. So what might have been a case study in addressing structural inequality instead demonstrated why many Black Americans mistrust the medical system.

“Sometimes it’s in the mistakes that we learn,” says Janice Bowie, a behavioral scientist and professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions. “And unfortunately, in this case, some of these mistakes, you know, have cost people their lives.”

The Scars of Inequity

Like Ideal, much of South Dallas was deemed a Black residential zone in the early 20th century by law, custom and preference of both powerful and ordinary white people in Dallas. In Ideal, and in neighborhoods around the country where mostly Black and more recently Latino families live, scars and new wounds of inequity are obvious.

Even Mixon, who has been running the T.R. Hoover Community Development Corp. for more than 20 years, is sometimes taken aback by how easy it is to spot the differences between North and South Dallas, whose unofficial dividing line is Interstate 30. Before the pandemic, Mixon took some students attending an after-school program at T.R. Hoover on a field trip that required a drive through North Dallas. Several kids wanted to know where the power lines were. Mixon was surprised they had noticed.

In Ideal and much of South Dallas, power and other utility lines are largely aboveground, suspended along and across streets on giant poles. In much of North Dallas, they are buried, the more expensive but wind- and ice-storm-proof option that often comes with installation of high-speed Internet lines. In South Dallas, where not even Dallas-based AT&T offers high-speed Internet in some sections, rival Spectrum’s service is so spotty that on some of Ideal’s streets, people on one side can get online while people whose front doors are about 40 ft. away cannot.

That’s the kind of thing that made Mixon realize the county’s registration system was driving a new form of disparity. “I was issuing groceries out here,” Mixon says. “I would have different ones come up and say, ‘Ms. Mixon, I need to get registered for the shot,’ ‘I don’t know how to maneuver through the computer,’ or more or less have Internet. I understood all of that. I just went in here to the center and grabbed me a laptop.”

Almeree Jones outside her home in Dallas' Ideal neighborhood on Feb. 24.
Zerb Mellish for TIMEAlmeree Jones outside her home in Dallas’ Ideal neighborhood on Feb. 24.

It was late January, and Almeree Jones, 78, was in bed, resting her eyes. If she had been sleeping, she would have earned it.

Jones retired from the Dallas Morning News plant in the late 1990s and a second time from working as a Dallas school cafeteria worker in 2015. She rises early to drive two young granddaughters she’s raising to school when classes are in person. Then Jones, who walks with a limp, cleans up the whirlwind of hair bows and breakfast plates left behind in the four-bedroom house she’s been renting to own for almost 15 years in Ideal.

Since her husband of 48 years died in 2016, Jones has held together her family of five adult children and 28 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And with a family that size, there’s almost always something to do, someone to help. A ride here. A few words of support. For five family members, a bed in Jones’ home.

Read more: As Schools Close, the Digital Divide is Leaving Some Students Behind

But this was a rare morning that delivered a chance to stay in bed. Then, Jones heard someone at the door, unusual in the pandemic. It was Terry Taylor, a neighbor and friend so solid that she helped Jones bathe after her stroke and brain surgery. Taylor had news. An organization around the corner, T.R. Hoover, was helping people register for the coronavirus vaccine, right now, in its parking lot.

“So I got up … and put my clothes on and drove up to the center, and I had one of the ladies help me do it,” Jones says. She got her first shot on Feb. 4 and scheduled her second.

“It’s so many people of color who don’t know how to register, where to go register,” says Jones, who knows she’s in a better position than many in South Dallas. “And, when you look at the vaccine sites on TV … you see more Caucasian people than you do Black people and Hispanic people because, I don’t know if they got a chance to register first or what.”

The Vulnerability Index

To understand how distant from vaccine equity things are here, it is important to grasp a term that comes up in Dallas a lot: the COVID-19 Vulnerability Index, which was created by the Dallas-based Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation (PCCI). The nonprofit health care analytics company provides data to improve care and reduce health disparities. Its CEO, Steve Miff, says that unless data is applied in a way that drives equity, “It’s just cool math.”

The vulnerability index predicts the risk of COVID-19 infection and death, based on one’s home address. It calculates the proximity and volume of COVID-19 cases in the area, the average number of people sharing homes or living in high-density settings, the share of residents who must depend on public transportation and several other factors, including the area’s rate of chronic disease, number of senior citizens, access to food and opportunities for social distancing. Most people in South Dallas zip codes hit hard by COVID-19 will rank high on the vulnerability index. Most in North Dallas will not. The index was supposed to help ensure equity in vaccine appointments.

<strong>“I said to myself, Where did all these white people come from?!”</strong>Read more: How the U.S. Vaccine Rollout Looks Right Now

So when mass vaccinations began Jan. 11 at Dallas County’s vaccination center, a 227-acre site in South Dallas called Fair Park that in normal times is home to the State Fair of Texas, the Cotton Bowl and several museums, it was clear something was amiss. One person watching things that day was John Wiley Price, the only Black member of the Dallas County Commissioners Court and a Democrat who represents most of South Dallas. Like a lot of counties that are home to major American cities, including Los Angeles and Philadelphia, people of color comprise a majority here. The population is about 41% Latino, 24% Black, nearly 7% Asian and about 1% Native American. That made what Price saw confounding.

“I said to myself, Where did all these white people come from?!” Price says. Almost all in line and on golf carts ferrying people with mobility challenges from the parking areas appeared to be white.

Dallas County judge Clay Jenkins, a white Democrat, noticed it too. He was there trying to ensure that things went smoothly, trying to spot problems.

Jenkins was so perplexed that he assigned a staff member to find out how so many white people—the least likely demographic to die of COVID-19—got vaccines that first day. By close of business, Jenkins’ staff had figured it out.

A white Dallas city council member in an affluent North Dallas district had shared, in a digital newsletter, a link sent by the county to someone registered to get a vaccine. The link served as confirmation of the registration and provided next steps for making an appointment. Two more council people representing similar districts also shared the link. Then, someone posted a link on Nextdoor.com. Soon, thousands of people had used shared links to make appointments, whether they were eligible or not.

Read more: We Asked 30,000 Black Americans What They Need to Survive. Here’s What They Said

Local officials intended to limit the first appointments to those 75 and older, but Jenkins and Price saw that many people at Fair Park were far younger, and most were white.

Jenkins approached some and asked where they worked, thinking they might be first responders willing to stay a few hours and help manage the crowd. “Some looked at me with blank stares,” he says. “Some told me that they were FBI agents but forgot to bring their badges.” When Jenkins asked which ZIP codes they lived in, “They were the most affluent ZIP codes in Dallas, where our police officers generally don’t live.”

Attempting a Major Correction

Three of the five members of the county’s commissioners court insisted on a major correction at their next meeting on Jan. 19. Price and county commissioner J.J. Koch, who is white and the only Republican commissioner, crafted a plan to ensure “the vaccine can reach the most vulnerable populations.”

In short, it said that of those eligible for the vaccine, people living in 11 ZIP codes deemed the county’s most medically vulnerable would get top priority. A 65-year-old with health issues in one of these ZIP codes, for example, might be vaccinated before a 75-year-old from a low-risk neighborhood. Eight of the zip codes were in South Dallas; two were in North Dallas, and one straddled I-30, covering parts of North and South Dallas.

Opponents warned that the situation was fluid; some ZIP codes might see spikes in cases, but their residents could be shut out of appointments. Jenkins, cognizant of his North Dallas constituents, was one of them. “What that means is that North Dallas won’t be getting any vaccines to any appreciable degree for many months,” he said at the meeting, questioning the legality of the move. “You are about to do something that you are really going to regret.”

“Well, I will be the judge of that,” Koch replied.

Read more: The U.S. Fumbled its Early Vaccine Rollout. Will the Biden Administration Put America on Track?

The plan was approved 3-1, with one abstention. Jenkins advised the Republican-led state’s department of health, which sets rules for vaccine hubs, of the plan; one day later, the state told Dallas County that its vaccine doses would be cut and its status as a vaccine hub revoked if the measure went forward. Even as they urged “equitable” distribution of doses, state officials said the hardest-hit areas could not be prioritized above others. Later that day, the county rescinded the plan.

When the Biden Administration took office, it shifted away from the Trump Administration’s vague assurances that after medical workers and people in long-term-care facilities had been vaccinated, other Americans soon would be able walk in and request a jab at their neighborhood pharmacy or health care provider. Instead, Biden wanted mass-vaccination hubs controlled by states, counties and cities, and equity would be a priority. He named Marcella Nunez-Smith, a public-health researcher, dean and associate professor at Yale University, chair of a White House task force to focus on health disparities. But in Dallas County, people responsible for mass vaccinations were scrambling, and it quickly became obvious, Koch says, that the “standard of success is getting shots in arms.”

Shots in arms keep the vaccine supply coming, Koch says. Vaccination disparities do not shut it off.

And disparities were virtually guaranteed, not just because of things like Internet access. The system was tilted in favor of wealthier white people by prioritizing the 75-and-older crowd initially for vaccines. That eliminated many in South Dallas, where living to 75 is relatively rare. In the 75215 zip code, where Ideal is located, life expectancy sits at an area low of 67.6 years. Of the 11 targeted ZIP codes, three have average life expectancies below 75; none reaches the county average of 78.3 years. An analysis produced by PCCI found that in the weeks when vaccine registrations were limited to those 75 and older, 71% of the people registered in that age range were white. About 8% were Black and 11% were Latino.

Moving in a New Direction, Slowly

By the time I visited Mixon at T.R. Hoover, the county and city had acknowledged that the registration system had given North Dallas a huge advantage and that things had to change. Officials added more in-person sign-up locations. They announced plans for a door-to-door registration drive and for a call center so more people could register by phone. The share of Black people signed up to get the vaccine rose by a sliver from almost 11% on Jan. 24 to almost 12% by Feb. 7. During that period, Latino registration increased from 19.5% of the total to just over 20%. And the proportion of white registrants shrunk from about 63% to about 54%. The numbers don’t put registrations close to a mirror of the population or those at greatest risk, but they are moving in that direction, slowly. Black and Latino Americans continue to express greater amounts of hesitancy around the vaccine, and the rollout has offered them little reassurance.

Dallas, a county that tried to address vaccine equity overtly, is a place that people are watching. PCCI’s COVID vulnerability index and the clinical implications for it will be published in April in the New England Journal of Medicine’s Catalyst in Innovations in Care Delivery, focused on health care delivery. And the federal government has stepped in with a plan to offer the type of targeting local officials tried, prioritizing people in 17 hard-hit ZIP codes.

“This pandemic has been a transformative moment for us,” says Bowie, the Johns Hopkins behavioral scientist. “And it’s what we will do with it, as we move forward and move through, this is really going to tell a lot about who we are as a country.”

As the cold air forces an indoor retreat, Mixon and I sit down, masked and separated by several feet, in T.R. Hoover’s computer lab. Theodore Roosevelt Hoover, Mixon’s great-grandfather and the center’s namesake, brought the family to Ideal in the early 20th century. He and his seven brothers left their mark on the landscape by building houses. Mixon tries to build better, and now longer, lives in what some locals still call “the Ideal.”

Down the hall, staff and volunteers are discussing plans to create a database drawn from voter-precinct lists and from names of people who have had contact with T.R. Hoover. Volunteers will call everyone listed to see if they need help registering for a vaccine.

Mixon pokes her head into the meeting and then tells me the group has voted to buy two pay-as-you-go phones to put the registration effort into action.

But she looks a little forlorn. After a moment, she explains that two weeks ago, her neighborhood fishmonger lost his father to COVID-19. She’s just heard the virus has killed her fishman, too.

With reporting by Julia Zorthian

 

 

 

 

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The First Vaccine Doses from COVAX Have Been Administered

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How to Stay Social When You Never See Your Work Friends

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One of the hardest parts of working remotely is losing the built-in social life an office environment provides. But just because you’re not in the same building as others doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be a hermit.

Start building your out-of-office social life by reaching out to coworkers you like—and talking about things besides work. There are plenty of reasons why this might feel awkward at first, says Shasta Nelson, a friendship expert and author of The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of the Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time. Perhaps you’re not used to initiating contact outside of work, or you may feel burned out on virtual communication, so the idea of scheduling one more Zoom call isn’t particularly enticing, she says.

But it’s a good idea to push through your discomfort. Any form of social connection is great for your mental and physical health; loneliness is linked to a higher risk of health problems like anxiety, depression and heart conditions, while having strong social ties is linked to the opposite. Relationships with coworkers are particularly important not only to your own wellbeing, but also to that of your entire organization.

When friendships happen among colleagues, “people feel more engaged, turnover and absenteeism go down, we see better performance, people are better communicators, there’s even a link to innovation,” says Terri Kurtzberg, a professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School and author of the book Virtual Teams: Mastering Communication and Collaboration in the Digital Age.

So even if it’s uncomfortable, or if you’re feeling shy, you should still make an effort to nurture friendships from work. Here’s how to do it.

Be the one to reach out

Nelson suggests jotting down the names of three to five people in your office who you miss or who you would like to get to know better. This will help you prioritize which relationships you’re most keen on maintaining or developing.

When you reach out, Nelson suggests an opening line like, “Would you want to hop on a call for 15 minutes before our team meeting next week to catch up a bit?” Be as specific as possible: “How’s Thursday at noon?” is better than “Let’s chat sometime.”

During the call or video chat, Kurtzberg encourages people to be vulnerable and share what’s really going on in your life. “Sometimes we aim for professionalism to the point where we don’t come across as human, and I think people like it better if you’re just a person,” she says. “Let people in a little bit to your world. It goes a long way in building connections.”

If you’re worried about making conversation, you can even brainstorm a handful of topics to address before you hop on a call: books you’ve read, podcasts you’ve enjoyed or television shows you’ve binged.

Find common ground

“Positivity isn’t just saying positive things,” Nelson says. “Our goal isn’t to be positive; our goal is for both people to leave feeling better for having interacted.”

To boost positivity in your work friendships, ask your colleagues what’s been bringing them joy lately. You can also start a Slack channel in which to post articles, songs, recipes and podcasts that have been inspiring or comforting. With closer work friends, create a group text chat where you send each other positive messages or silly videos.

No matter how close you are right now, you may even come up with a health-related or hobby-related goal you’d like to achieve together. “Relationships are such a great medium for accountability,” says Marisa Franco, a psychologist and friendship expert. This is a “mutually beneficial way to fulfill your need to connect and also help you with the pile of things that you might have going on.”

Interruptions will happen. Be upfront about them

“When we’re online, when we’re on video, even if we’re on the phone with each other, you can tell in a second when somebody’s attention goes somewhere else,” Kurtzberg says. “And it’s damaging. People do notice; they do hold it against you.”

Be forgiving when interruptions happen on the other end, and when they happen to you, simply explain yourself outright, Kurtzberg suggests. Say, “Hang on one second. I need to answer a question from my kid.” People will be much more forgiving because “if you zone out for a second, it’s like people take it personally,” she says.

Automate check-ins

Franco suggests scheduling a recurring appointment with a co-worker to catch up—at lunchtime, on Monday afternoons, whatever works for you both. Having these regular meetups in your calendar is a way to “simulate the water cooler moments where you just kind of bump into each other and you just have a conversation that’s not related to work,” Franco says. These are the kinds of interactions you miss out on when working from home, but you can get the same experience by linking up virtually. Making check-ins automatic also takes the guesswork out of when you’ll touch base with your coworkers next.

Stick the landing

At the end of your conversation, Nelson recommends expressing your appreciation to your coworker. Thank them for taking the time to speak with you, and share what you enjoyed about your conversation. Giving a sincere compliment, like “I think your ideas are going to make a difference,” can brighten their day and yours.

“Those final moments are so powerful,” Nelson says. It’s “really important that we end well and end validating each other,” which helps us connect better virtually when we can’t in person.

What Learned About Ourselves In the First Year of the Pandemic

DaveRat No Comments


A version of this article appeared in this week’s It’s Not Just You newsletter. SUBSCRIBE HERE to have an It’s Not Just You essay delivered to your inbox every Sunday.

March is the anteroom of months. It’s both the end of last year’s winter and the beginning of the new year’s spring. It’s half slush, half-quixotic hope.

I had my first baby in March–a child that arrived nine days late, already a solid little being with startling almond eyes and the appetite of a toddler. I had no idea what I was doing; we two just hunkered down and tried to figure each other out.

I still flounder at the start of every March, for different reasons every year, staggering out of February a soggy, angsty creature whose clothes don’t fit.

But somehow, I slip-slide toward the end of the month, and things start to make sense. Maybe the vernal equinox is what helps get us back on track every spring. It’s that moment, usually, on the 20th or 21st of March, when the entire planet is in balance, both the northern and southern hemispheres have the same amount of daylight as darkness.

This year we could use a little vernal harmony as we emerge like moles into the sunlight after 12 months of shutdowns and loss. Hope is still skittish these days, slipping in and out of the back door. But the numbers are going in the right direction. Vaccines are here in bulk, and while distribution still feels like it was set up by the folks who brought us the Hunger Games, that’s getting better too.

My beloved Aunt Wissie even got her vaccination. She’s been on her own all this time. And she figured out where in Pennsylvania she could get an appointment, then drove hours West early in the morning to get her shot. Wissie always says, “you do the best you can with the tools you have.” And so she has done so for her 80 years. The other day, we talked about the miracle that is the COVID-19 vaccine and how, when she was young, polio terrorized many generations of parents and kids before the vaccine arrived in 1955, shutting down pools and camps every single summer.

The experts say something approaching normal is coming our way this summer. It’s like we are waiting for a blockbuster movie. And if it were, the trailer would be just a litany of ordinary events, like a newborn being handed off to a string of aunties or people eating pizza in a booth with other humans after some sort of sports event. There’d be lingering shots of people in cafes writing about old-fashioned banal worries in journals.

But for now, hope that little wraith won’t settle down. She remembers all the other times we saw numbers going the right way, and then something happened. So we will keep wearing face coverings for a little longer, maybe even trade up for a new spring mask look.

And while we wait, let’s tally all the things we’ll want to take with us out of this tunnel. And yes, there’s so much much we never want to see again (or wear again), but there’s much to hang on to as well.

For example, let’s not forget how to pay attention to what’s right in front of us. When the boundaries of your world got smaller with fewer distractions, we became much more aware of everything within that circle.

This year has been a master class in observation. Like how we learned to really look at nature–whatever scrap of it was nearby. All the weird berries and bugs and plants and trees were always out there, undergoing dramatic changes every four months. Most of us city-folk just walked on by on hurrying to some restaurant or movie or work—all of which I’d obviously like to hurry to soon. But I don’t want to stop noticing the small pulses of spring as they grow stronger.

Even people under 60 became obsessed with natural phenomena reporting back like breaking news if we found a new alien-looking seed pod in the park. And for a while, when commuter traffic disappeared, it was like someone turned up the bird volume, and that’s all you could hear, other than the haunting sound of ambulances in New York in April.

And in that contained sphere of us, there were the people we quarantined with: The beloveds and the roommates and the kids. On the one hand, the days blurred into endless identical cycles. But in ten years, you’ll see that roommate, and no matter how rocky things got, there will be a bond between you like going to college together or boot camp.

We also had so much time to study the faces of the ones we love, learn their ways and wants. To see what causes the shadows to appear behind their eyes. We all learned how to maneuver around each other’s moods and patterns like we were all on a ship bumping down the narrow hallways of our confinement.

That knowledge of how to be together for this long is precious. It’s as if we’ve all undergone a new version of that experiment the New York Times wrote about where they asked people who’d just met to stare into each other’s eyes for a certain amount of time and ask each other 36 questions. They fell in love or at least like.

All this mashing together has been uncomfortable and sometimes painful, especially after the first few months. Yet, we found that familiarity can sometimes breed more love. And that goes for familiarity with ourselves too. Learning to be alone with yourself, bumping into your own faults at every turn, is one of those achievements that serve you well long after forced solitude ends. It’s the ultimate skill. And if you’re lucky, there’s a dog around. Now I know why poet Mary Oliver was always writing about her canines. They are the glue holding civilization together. At the very least, they force us to put pants on and leave the house regularly.

That baby I had in March is now back at college, and so is their sibling. Until a few weeks ago, we three were rattling around in our 1100 square feet of Brooklyn, and lord, we fought at first. But I think about how I won’t forget watching the two of them, children of mine, learn to cook together–the sauces, the eggs, so many eggs cooked so many ways. I saw how they moved easily, like watch gears in the small kitchen sharing tasks without words. I had visions of them at my age, making those same dishes in some kitchen somewhere, chopping, handing plates off to each other easily because they also learned how to be grown-ups together during this endless year. So did I.

But then again, I feel as if I have to remember how to be an adult again every March. 💌

If you’re new to It’s Not Just You, SUBSCRIBE HERE to get a weekly dose delivered to your inbox for free. Send comments and suggestions to me at Susanna@time.com.

If you’re new to It’s Not Just You, SUBSCRIBE HERE to get a weekly dose delivered to your inbox for free.

COPING KIT ⛱

Spring Equinox After the Pandemic
Photograph by Susanna Schrobsdorff

<strong>And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?</strong>Herewith, a bit of a challenge from poet Mary Oliver for a muddy and muddled Spring:

–Mary Oliver, Dream Work

We’re Having Trouble Recognizing Each Other In Masks, and It’s Getting Awkward Something for your pandemic scrapbook–amusing stories about the man who mistook his wife for a stranger and a bevy of new Biden administration officials who keep having to re-introduce themselves to each other.

Expert Advice on Getting Through the Next Phase of the Pandemic from surprising sources, like Antarctic researchers.

<strong>Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. </strong></span> <span style="font-weight: 400;">To All the Clothes I’ve Loved Before, a meditation on one year of sweatpants, the fashion industry’s existential crisis, and what we miss about dressing up.

—Cheryl Strayed


EVIDENCE OF HUMAN KINDNESS ❤️

Here’s your weekly reminder that creating a community of generosity elevates us all.

Jacob, a 25-year-old psychology graduate student from Southern California, filled out a Pandemic of Love form indicating that he was willing to be an “anywhere” donor, giving across state lines and to any family in need of help. He was matched with Marshall, a 55-year old construction worker in North Carolina. Marshall requested help with his rent for the month of December. Marshall had fallen behind on his rent when he contracted COVID-19 and lost 5 weeks’ worth of wages: “Things were already tight, but I was grateful to be squeaking by every month at a time when so many people are suffering.”

Marshall had a few conversations with Jacob and recalls being really impressed that someone “as young as Jacob could be so thoughtful.” After settling on what Jacob would be able to financially assist Marshall with, Jacob sent him an email with a list of what he would need to be able to help, and then…Marshall disappeared. Jacob attempted to contact Marshall several times, worried that perhaps something bad had happened or that perhaps Marshall’s health had taken a turn for the worst.

After almost three weeks, Jacob received a call from a North Carolina number. “It wasn’t Marshall’s number, but I immediately answered because I thought maybe it was someone who read my text messages to him and saw how concerned I was about him.” On the other end of the receiver, there was silence and then, a clearing of a throat and finally the words, “Jacob, it’s Marshall, and I do believe I owe you an apology for the way I have treated you.”

Jacob was so happy to hear Marshall’s voice but equally perplexed by his opening sentence. Marshall explained that after he had gotten Jacob’s email, he clicked on the University link in his email signature, intending to learn more about Jacob’s work and studies. He explained that he was shocked to see that Jacob was a Black man and that it was hard for him to wrap his head around being helped by “someone like you.”

“Someone like me?” Jacob repeated back.

Marshall explained that because of where he was from and how he grew up, his initial reaction was an embarrassment because he was asking for help in the first place and that getting help from a Black man “did not sit well” with [him] for some reason.

“I sat with this for a long time, and I could not bring myself to tell you what my reaction was,” he said to Jacob. “I was embarrassed to ask for help but then even more embarrassed by my reaction. I work side-by-side every day with diverse people and I did not consider myself to be a racist, but meeting [Jacob] opened my eyes to the fact that I was not being completely honest about that. I knew this is not the person I want to be, but I was not sure how to come out and say it.”

Marshall told Jacob that he’d understand if he did not want to help him any longer but that he wanted him to know how he felt and why he disappeared and that he was sorry. Jacob, recognizing what a momentous shift this was for Marshall and how brave and vulnerable he had to be to even have this conversation with him, thanked Marshall for his honesty and his thoughtfulness.

“Of course, I agreed to still help Marshall,” said Jacob. Adding that it was an opportunity to “forge an even more meaningful connection with him.”

This story is courtesy of Shelly Tygielski, founder of Pandemic of Love, a grassroots organization that matches those who want to become donors or volunteers directly with those who’ve asked for help with essential needs.


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What We Learned About Ourselves In the First Year of the Pandemic

DaveRat No Comments


A version of this article appeared in this week’s It’s Not Just You newsletter. SUBSCRIBE HERE to have an It’s Not Just You essay delivered to your inbox every Sunday.

March is the anteroom of months. It’s both the end of last year’s winter and the beginning of the new year’s spring. It’s half slush, half-quixotic hope.

I had my first baby in March–a child that arrived nine days late, already a solid little being with startling almond eyes and the appetite of a toddler. I had no idea what I was doing; we two just hunkered down and tried to figure each other out.

I still flounder at the start of every March, for different reasons every year, staggering out of February a soggy, angsty creature whose clothes don’t fit.

But somehow, I slip-slide toward the end of the month, and things start to make sense. Maybe the vernal equinox is what helps get us back on track every spring. It’s that moment, usually, on the 20th or 21st of March, when the entire planet is in balance, both the northern and southern hemispheres have the same amount of daylight as darkness.

This year we could use a little vernal harmony as we emerge like moles into the sunlight after 12 months of shutdowns and loss. Hope is still skittish these days, slipping in and out of the back door. But the numbers are going in the right direction. Vaccines are here in bulk, and while distribution still feels like it was set up by the folks who brought us the Hunger Games, that’s getting better too.

My beloved Aunt Wissie even got her vaccination. She’s been on her own all this time. And she figured out where in Pennsylvania she could get an appointment, then drove hours West early in the morning to get her shot. Wissie always says, “you do the best you can with the tools you have.” And so she has done so for her 80 years. The other day, we talked about the miracle that is the COVID-19 vaccine and how, when she was young, polio terrorized many generations of parents and kids before the vaccine arrived in 1955, shutting down pools and camps every single summer.

The experts say something approaching normal is coming our way this summer. It’s like we are waiting for a blockbuster movie. And if it were, the trailer would be just a litany of ordinary events, like a newborn being handed off to a string of aunties or people eating pizza in a booth with other humans after some sort of sports event. There’d be lingering shots of people in cafes writing about old-fashioned banal worries in journals.

But for now, hope that little wraith won’t settle down. She remembers all the other times we saw numbers going the right way, and then something happened. So we will keep wearing face coverings for a little longer, maybe even trade up for a new spring mask look.

And while we wait, let’s tally all the things we’ll want to take with us out of this tunnel. And yes, there’s so much much we never want to see again (or wear again), but there’s much to hang on to as well.

For example, let’s not forget how to pay attention to what’s right in front of us. When the boundaries of your world got smaller with fewer distractions, we became much more aware of everything within that circle.

This year has been a master class in observation. Like how we learned to really look at nature–whatever scrap of it was nearby. All the weird berries and bugs and plants and trees were always out there, undergoing dramatic changes every four months. Most of us city-folk just walked on by on hurrying to some restaurant or movie or work—all of which I’d obviously like to hurry to soon. But I don’t want to stop noticing the small pulses of spring as they grow stronger.

Even people under 60 became obsessed with natural phenomena reporting back like breaking news if we found a new alien-looking seed pod in the park. And for a while, when commuter traffic disappeared, it was like someone turned up the bird volume, and that’s all you could hear, other than the haunting sound of ambulances in New York in April.

And in that contained sphere of us, there were the people we quarantined with: The beloveds and the roommates and the kids. On the one hand, the days blurred into endless identical cycles. But in ten years, you’ll see that roommate, and no matter how rocky things got, there will be a bond between you like going to college together or boot camp.

We also had so much time to study the faces of the ones we love, learn their ways and wants. To see what causes the shadows to appear behind their eyes. We all learned how to maneuver around each other’s moods and patterns like we were all on a ship bumping down the narrow hallways of our confinement.

That knowledge of how to be together for this long is precious. It’s as if we’ve all undergone a new version of that experiment the New York Times wrote about where they asked people who’d just met to stare into each other’s eyes for a certain amount of time and ask each other 36 questions. They fell in love or at least like.

All this mashing together has been uncomfortable and sometimes painful, especially after the first few months. Yet, we found that familiarity can sometimes breed more love. And that goes for familiarity with ourselves too. Learning to be alone with yourself, bumping into your own faults at every turn, is one of those achievements that serve you well long after forced solitude ends. It’s the ultimate skill. And if you’re lucky, there’s a dog around. Now I know why poet Mary Oliver was always writing about her canines. They are the glue holding civilization together. At the very least, they force us to put pants on and leave the house regularly.

That baby I had in March is now back at college, and so is their sibling. Until a few weeks ago, we three were rattling around in our 1100 square feet of Brooklyn, and lord, we fought at first. But I think about how I won’t forget watching the two of them, children of mine, learn to cook together–the sauces, the eggs, so many eggs cooked so many ways. I saw how they moved easily, like watch gears in the small kitchen sharing tasks without words. I had visions of them at my age, making those same dishes in some kitchen somewhere, chopping, handing plates off to each other easily because they also learned how to be grown-ups together during this endless year. So did I.

But then again, I feel as if I have to remember how to be an adult again every March. 💌

If you’re new to It’s Not Just You, SUBSCRIBE HERE to get a weekly dose delivered to your inbox for free. Send comments and suggestions to me at Susanna@time.com.

If you’re new to It’s Not Just You, SUBSCRIBE HERE to get a weekly dose delivered to your inbox for free.

COPING KIT ⛱

Spring Equinox After the Pandemic
Photograph by Susanna Schrobsdorff

<strong>And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?</strong>Herewith, a bit of a challenge from poet Mary Oliver for a muddy and muddled Spring:

–Mary Oliver, Dream Work

We’re Having Trouble Recognizing Each Other In Masks, and It’s Getting Awkward Something for your pandemic scrapbook–amusing stories about the man who mistook his wife for a stranger and a bevy of new Biden administration officials who keep having to re-introduce themselves to each other.

Expert Advice on Getting Through the Next Phase of the Pandemic from surprising sources, like Antarctic researchers.

<strong>Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. </strong></span> <span style="font-weight: 400;">To All the Clothes I’ve Loved Before, a meditation on one year of sweatpants, the fashion industry’s existential crisis, and what we miss about dressing up.

—Cheryl Strayed


EVIDENCE OF HUMAN KINDNESS ❤️

Here’s your weekly reminder that creating a community of generosity elevates us all.

Jacob, a 25-year-old psychology graduate student from Southern California, filled out a Pandemic of Love form indicating that he was willing to be an “anywhere” donor, giving across state lines and to any family in need of help. He was matched with Marshall, a 55-year old construction worker in North Carolina. Marshall requested help with his rent for the month of December. Marshall had fallen behind on his rent when he contracted COVID-19 and lost 5 weeks’ worth of wages: “Things were already tight, but I was grateful to be squeaking by every month at a time when so many people are suffering.”

Marshall had a few conversations with Jacob and recalls being really impressed that someone “as young as Jacob could be so thoughtful.” After settling on what Jacob would be able to financially assist Marshall with, Jacob sent him an email with a list of what he would need to be able to help, and then…Marshall disappeared. Jacob attempted to contact Marshall several times, worried that perhaps something bad had happened or that perhaps Marshall’s health had taken a turn for the worst.

After almost three weeks, Jacob received a call from a North Carolina number. “It wasn’t Marshall’s number, but I immediately answered because I thought maybe it was someone who read my text messages to him and saw how concerned I was about him.” On the other end of the receiver, there was silence and then, a clearing of a throat and finally the words, “Jacob, it’s Marshall, and I do believe I owe you an apology for the way I have treated you.”

Jacob was so happy to hear Marshall’s voice but equally perplexed by his opening sentence. Marshall explained that after he had gotten Jacob’s email, he clicked on the University link in his email signature, intending to learn more about Jacob’s work and studies. He explained that he was shocked to see that Jacob was a Black man and that it was hard for him to wrap his head around being helped by “someone like you.”

“Someone like me?” Jacob repeated back.

Marshall explained that because of where he was from and how he grew up, his initial reaction was an embarrassment because he was asking for help in the first place and that getting help from a Black man “did not sit well” with [him] for some reason.

“I sat with this for a long time, and I could not bring myself to tell you what my reaction was,” he said to Jacob. “I was embarrassed to ask for help but then even more embarrassed by my reaction. I work side-by-side every day with diverse people and I did not consider myself to be a racist, but meeting [Jacob] opened my eyes to the fact that I was not being completely honest about that. I knew this is not the person I want to be, but I was not sure how to come out and say it.”

Marshall told Jacob that he’d understand if he did not want to help him any longer but that he wanted him to know how he felt and why he disappeared and that he was sorry. Jacob, recognizing what a momentous shift this was for Marshall and how brave and vulnerable he had to be to even have this conversation with him, thanked Marshall for his honesty and his thoughtfulness.

“Of course, I agreed to still help Marshall,” said Jacob. Adding that it was an opportunity to “forge an even more meaningful connection with him.”

This story is courtesy of Shelly Tygielski, founder of Pandemic of Love, a grassroots organization that matches those who want to become donors or volunteers directly with those who’ve asked for help with essential needs.


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