Social distancing reminds us of our privilege


Elaine Park

Distancing poses more problems than only social separation for peoples of less developed nations.

Due to COVID-19, people all over the world have been advised to stay at home. Schools have closed, and all non-essential workers and students are now working and learning from home. The problem is that there are groups of people all over the world who can’t practice social distancing or isolate themselves from large groups of people. It’s unfair to punish people for something that they can’t control by denying them the right to practice social distancing. Housing and basic respect is necessary in a time like this to help solve this issue.

In Bareilly, India, migrant workers who were trying to go back to their villages were stopped and sprayed down with a chemical solution by Indian officials, according to the BBC. These laborers, after losing work and their source of income, were going back to their homes. They had nowhere else to go. Despite this, they were punished.

According to the Bareilly’s district magistrate, “The team of the Bareilly Municipal Corporation and fire department officials were asked to sanitise buses but in their enthusiasm, they sprayed the workers too.” Despite the workers’ efforts to follow orders and return home, they were likely treated horribly because of their lower socioeconomic status. They did not have to be sprayed with a chemical.. If they were traveling too close to one another, an official could have told them to spread apart, it’s not like they had any other choice. They have no home besides the villages that they were going to. 

This problem is not limited to only one part of the world. Similar problems are prevalent in the United States as well.

Homeless shelters all over the country pack as many people as they can into their rooms. The source Next City said that shelters can have as many as 70 people sleeping in close proximity in one of their rooms, which does not follow the guidelines set up by the WHO and the CDC. Homeless people should not have to suffer because they are homeless.

However, some places are trying to help the homeless with social distancing. Homeless people were given places to sleep in grid squares on the pavement of a parking lot after an inhabitant of the shelter tested positive with COVID-19. While this follows social distancing guidelines, making people sleep on the cold pavement is definitely not the best solution.

Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Development Julián Castro tweeted, “There are 150K hotel rooms in Vegas going unused right now. How about public-private cooperation (resources) to temporarily house them there?” The local government should be able to have better resources to be able to properly house people so that guidelines can be followed during this pandemic, especially when the resources are available. 

There are some places that are housing the homeless indoors. For example, the San Diego Convention Center is being used to house homeless people around the country, specifically women in crowded homeless shelters. This is great and will help 340 people. The problem is that not enough places are doing this. Hotel owners and corporations can also open up their doors like the convention center has. There are many empty buildings now, and many of them can be used to house the homeless and other people in need. The government should be able to step in to give them access to this necessity. Homeless people are still people, and should be able to protect themselves from disease.

Homeless people are more at risk of all diseases, not only COVID-19. They lack access to regular hand washing in addition to living in cramped spaces. Even though the convention center can house hundreds of people, it’s not enough; as of 2019, there were 567,715 homeless people in the U.S. Many more centers and other kinds of buildings need to open their spaces up to people in need in order to properly slow the spread of the virus. 

Social distancing is not something that everyone can practice at all times. It’s a privilege to be able to completely separate yourself from others. The pandemic has made these issues very clear.

It is a struggle for migrant workers and the homeless to isolate themselves, which ends up hurting them and our society as a whole. As people who can social distance, we need to help those who cannot, by speaking up about what is happening to them around the world.