We Need to Reframe Freedom Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Kristin Entler avatar

by Kristin Entler |

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freedom and COVID-19 pandemic / Cystic Fibrosis News Today / photo of woman wearing a face mask in a crowded room

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I didn’t want to write about this yet. Of course, I also thought COVID-19 would be over by now. From the very beginning of the pandemic, I had hoped, like so many others in the chronic illness community, that things would go differently. I always knew the pandemic wouldn’t end in just two weeks, but I also didn’t want to believe it would still be going on as I prepare for another uncertain semester.

I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom. As someone who was raised and currently lives in the U.S., the concept of freedom is deeply rooted in the rhetoric of my heartland. From the ship I’m in, freedom feels like it’s in dangerous waters.

It is, of course, not solely an American ideal. Recently, England made headlines for what it called “Freedom Day,” when officials declared the country free of many of the mandates imposed to stall the spread of COVID-19. It feels important to note that Freedom Day occurred alongside rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the country.

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As someone who is no stranger to lung infection, I am privileged to understand virology as a process of my survival. When I was in kindergarten, I scolded other kids for not covering their mouths when they coughed or sneezed. My disease has already made me hyperaware of any sounds of illness near me. Otherwise, I risked catching crippling colds that’d have me away from school for up to two weeks. And that was a best-case scenario.

As I write this on the American side of the pond, I have been stressing over syllabus readings for the upcoming English classes I’m teaching. I worry every day about how many of my students will be vaccinated.

I bounce between my calendar and Twitter, where U.S. President Joe Biden has just tweeted about the responsibility of having freedom. In a country founded on the idea that we are all equal and free, it is important to recognize that it is a privilege to have the freedom to make choices.

What Biden’s tweet did not make clear is that until the pandemic is over for everyone, the most vulnerable members of our population are not free.

Since February 2020, I have heard people tout that measures to protect my life infringe on their freedom. Some of these arguments stretch so far that some states, including my own, have banned mask mandates. But if one person’s freedom puts another’s life and ability to thrive at risk, maybe it’s time to reevaluate our definition of freedom.

Of course, I cannot force anyone I know to wear a mask. Or to get vaccinated. I’ve posted stories on Instagram and infographics on Facebook practically begging my friends and family to do their part. To follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. To care about each other and their own health. To realize that vaccines are safe.

I have cited that I know how it feels for breath to be outside of my reach, to feel like my head is being held underwater by forces beyond my control. I do not want anyone I love to ever endure a heart-shaking search for air.

After so much of this, I still don’t know what’s worse — seeing friends engage in activities that perpetuate my seemingly endless lockdown, or knowing they have heard and recognized the siren’s song and watching them jump into the water. I am left feeling alone on a sinking ship.

I have engaged in a few meaningful conversations online that have gone well. I have also lost handfuls of people I used to consider close.

Thanks to the vaccine, I am finally free to get groceries without wiping down each item with a Clorox wipe before putting it away. With the delta variant rapidly spreading, I’m not entirely sure how much longer this freedom will hold.

I’m counting down the four weeks until I enter a classroom to teach for the first time since early March of last year. I hope I can find freedom to feel safe someday soon.

Like others in this boat with me, I am enjoying the bits of freedom as I have access to them. I am angry at the people around me who continue to tout their freedom as a reason to engage in actions that keep me from accessing the same privileged spaces in my community.

***

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.

Comments

Stacy French avatar

Stacy French

Masks do nothing... if they did... I would have been permitted to walk the hallways of the hospital I was in when I was being treated for CF pneumonia... however I have a resistant pseudomonas in my lungs... and yes I cough... and yes I asked if I wear a mask and I was told no. Quarantined.. unable to leave my small room for days because a mask would not prevent the spread of my pseudomonas. We have been told so many contradictory things with this Covid and now those who refuse the shot are being called the CAUSE of this Delta Variant. I must say, many are convinced of masks being effective, but were that true, then those who reject the vax would simply have to mask up to prevent it all. However... masks do not stop viruses or pseudomonas ...

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Stacy French avatar

Stacy French

anyone with CF never has the same "freedom" as others.

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William Hoh, MD MPH avatar

William Hoh, MD MPH

You may not be able to mandate masks in your classroom, but could you send a letter home to parents asking them to have the children wear masks for you? Most parents in the situation would be only too happy to comply.

You may want to talk to an attorney for someone at the union if you belong to one. The Americans With Disabilities Act covers cystic fibrosis and the school instituting a mask mandates would probably not be considered an undue hardship , as they've done it before.

I practice doctor-patient and environmental medicine for a living for many years. All you need is a letter from a doctor saying you need mask mandates as a reasonable accommodation.

Again, I don't know the specifics of your situation so this is just very general advice. But it never hurts to talk to an attorney or union steward about a problem you're having like this.

BTW… I am a physician but I also have a 13-year-old with cystic fibrosis.

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William Hoh, MD MPH avatar

William Hoh, MD MPH

Also, the cystic fibrosis foundation has a resource called COMPASS. You can talk to an attorney there who has experience with CF issues like yours. And if it's the same attorney, she also has CF so she will understand

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Deborah Haupert avatar

Deborah Haupert

Wonderful article. Totally agree with you.
Also need masks in schools!

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John avatar

John

Freedom does not need to be reframed because of your fear. I do feel sorry that you're living in such state of anxiety about covid, but that doesn't mean you get to dictate the lives of others. As adults in the US, we get the choice to assume risk everyday, some will take on more, some less. Before the pandemic it seems many people forgot that. Living with CF gives a greater awareness of our mortality and the fragility of life. But to think WE should determine the lives of our fellow citizens because of OUR own medical issues is flabbergasting. There are many things we can and should to protect our health, but living in a state of fear over ANYTHING, let alone c-19, is going to do more harm than the virus.

"Any society that is willing to give up a little liberty for a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
-Benjamin Franklin

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KIM TORCHY avatar

KIM TORCHY

Thank you for this. As a 53 year old with CF and an FEV of under 30, plus on 24/7 O2 for the past year and a half, I also have been feeling the same frustration and disappointment with other Americans. I just don't understand it and wonder what happened to the sense of togetherness that existed when this first started. I expected better of my fellow humans.

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