By State Rep. Joe Hohenstein
We have spent the last 17 months in a global pandemic that has disrupted our lives and our economy and changed how we interact with one other. Some thought we were out of it, but we know now that it isn’t over. We have to finish the job and beat back the Delta variant of COVID-19. This means going back to some of the things we didn’t like – like social distancing and mask wearing – if we want to avoid some of the things we really didn’t like – like stay-at-home orders, small business closures and our kids learning virtually.
In my office, we will keep our services going, but we will be doing most of our work through phone and email. In the office, we will set appointments and ask everyone – vaccinated or not – to wear masks. Our most vulnerable are still vulnerable and most of our kids are not vaccinated, so we will take these measures to protect them and prevent the spread of the Delta variant.
We must work together to shut down COVID’s attempt at a comeback, and I believe there are four basic things we can do:
• Stop the Spread – This means getting vaccinated, wearing masks, social distancing, sanitizing surfaces and washing hands. The vaccines are safe. If my parents and grandparents and older siblings all could do what was needed for the greater good and get vaccinated for things like polio and smallpox, then we can and should get COVID vaccines. The basic steps of vaccination and engaging in practices that make us safer when we are around each other will help ensure that the deaths and more drastic measures of 2020 can be avoided.
• Support Small Businesses and Their Employees – My office has seen more Unemployment Compensation cases than any other type this past year. We are supporting the Philadelphia Unemployment Project’s call for the state to provide those benefits more quickly and to stop the months-long waiting times that have threatened people’s ability to pay their rent and provide for their families. UC is a benefit that is earned and paid for by workers and it should be there in times of need. Similarly, many of our small businesses, especially in the service sector, were hard hit during closures in the pandemic. We need to act to make sure they get real support and are not subject to closures again, but we can only do that if we can help them provide their services safely. This means taking the steps above that stop the spread.
• Keep People in Their Homes – A stable life begins with a stable home. The eviction moratoriums that have kept people in stable living conditions are expiring across the country. We need to extend them so that people can continue to keep their families safe.
• Mental Health – One of the hidden impacts of the pandemic is the impact on everyone’s mental health. We should continue checking in on each other, and recognize that this “new normal” is not really normal. Just this past week, I have had three different family and friends in crisis. I am especially concerned for our kids and making sure that virtual learning does not become their new normal – because we cannot afford to lose another year of their lives. In the legislature, we need to provide better supports and structures to improve access to mental health care.
None of us wants to wear masks again and many have concerns about vaccinations, but the truth is that if we are serious about our own safety, the safety of our fellow citizens, our friends and our family, we have to get as close to universal vaccination as possible and we have to engage in the safest practices when we are together – so that we can keep being together. The vaccines are safe and will work for the good of all – just like the ones for polio, smallpox and chicken pox. ••