I woke up one morning last week, and as I scrolled through my social media feeds, I came across the viral video of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaking on ABC News' "Good Morning America." The clip showed her appearing to say that 75 percent of the people who died from Covid-19 had four or more comorbidities. Her tone was optimistic. As a young disabled and chronically ill woman, I felt the anger and heartbreak bubble up inside me as I watched the video. It felt as though the CDC was finally saying society's unspoken attitude toward chronically ill people out loud: We don't matter.
Even after I learned that “GMA” had edited Walensky's interview in a way that removed some context about the data she was referencing and read fact checks that made it clear she was describing the findings of just one study of vaccinated people rather than the general population, I was still angry.
The political right's attempt to use the video clip to prove their point about Covid-19 deaths — that otherwise healthy people had nothing to worry about — made me feel like chronically ill people were being used as political pawns. The right was using my potential death to spur distrust in the government and in medical professionals who are recommending we take precautions against Covid.
Using this video, the right was arguing that Covid-19 is no big deal, so people shouldn't be mandated to wear masks or get vaccinated. But that completely disregards the reality that Covid-19 is a dangerous and potentially deadly illness for millions of people in the U.S. with a chronic disease.
Sure, contracting Covid-19 might feel no worse than a seasonal cold for you, but does the inconvenience of listening to medical professionals and wearing a mask or getting vaccinated outweigh my right to be alive?
But I didn't just feel angry at the right's efforts to minimize the death of chronically ill people to slam the CDC; there are dualities to this whole thing. I was also infuriated that Walensky and the CDC at large were once again casting chronically ill and disabled people as "other" and as ultimately not part of the public she was addressing on national television.
In the full interview clip, Walensky described the results of one federal study that found that out of a group of 1.2 million fully vaccinated people from December 2020 to October 2021, 36 people died, 28 (or 78 percent) of which had four or more risk factors.
"So really, these are people who were unwell to begin with. And yes, really encouraging news in the context of omicron," she said. "And yes, we're really encouraged by these results."
Walensky was basically saying that you probably don't have to worry if you are healthy and vaccinated. It's like looking for a silver lining in my incredibly dark gray cloud. I am one of those people who is "unwell to begin with." I'm vaccinated, wear a mask, socially distance myself from others, yet I still have to worry.
I am still at risk of getting extremely sick or dying, and that's met with a lot of resistance and shoulder-shrugging on both sides of the aisle.
Studies like these have continuously been used to put people at ease and feed into the one thing everyone wants to hear: that they're going to be fine. But the reality is, it's the luck of the draw who is chronically ill and who isn't. People think that my life and experiences are out of the realm of possibility for them, their partner, parents, son, daughter or friend. But it's not, and it's terrifying to admit that.
And not everyone who is watching these television interviews and government briefings is healthy, so why are they not part of the conversation? It would be helpful if medical and government officials directly addressed chronically ill and disabled people during this pandemic, too. It would've been so helpful to hear Walensky say on "Good Morning America" that all people need to take precautions because a significant part of the population is still at risk in this pandemic.
Despite the flaws in Walensky's sentiments, the CDC is also our only hope to protect people like me. This is not a political issue; it's a human issue. Let's have a little more compassion for people, and let's stop using the illnesses and deaths of others as a bullet point in your argument.