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Covid-19 Castes

A persistent thread that has been woven through so much of Covid-19 is the variety of experiences across class, geography, age, and occupation. While the overall threat of this virus should be frightening to anyone, particularly due to remaining unknowns, the exposure, nor the risk is universal. This must have been true for past Pandemics, respectful to each society. Unlike any other time in history, we can really get a real-time glimpse of how this has impacted already existing social orders, and how it has exaggerated disparities, inequities, and exposed certain privileges.

We were able to see nakedly some of our inequities on full display from the beginning. As some people suffered the worst of the health consequences, others unknowingly passed the virus on. We saw which citizens were forced to take risks and for how much, who was “essential” to society’s basic functioning, who was prioritized by our representatives, and who was profiting.

A customer has his body temperature scanned at an Etro store in Milan, Italy, on May 18.Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images (
A customer gets a manicure at a nail salon in Atlanta on April 24. Georgia’s hair salons, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys and other businesses were permitted to reopen after Gov. Brian Kemp announced that he’d ease the state’s stay-at-home order.Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg/Getty Images (

From a biological perspective, collective action has a really obvious impact. The personal responsibility of many individuals can completely change how safe each one of us will be. Our modern internet age has shown us the different cultural and societal attitudes toward collective action. COVID-19 forces the consideration of secondary and tertiary impacts, both morally and selfishly. It requires a broader public participation to achieve any semblance of sustainable public health.

A police officer wearing a coronavirus-themed outfit walks in a market in Chennai, India, to raise awareness about social distancing.Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images

Examining the historical record should garner perspective on how this moment compares to those of the past. While this Coronavirus is new, pandemics are not. How did peoples of the past respond to similar circumstances? How did it impact inequities and social orders, and what were effective health measures taken by past societies? With all of the technological progress and ability to share information widely and quickly, one would expect major advantages, but are there new drawbacks and dangers? What has not changed?

Michigan state police prevent protesters from entering the chamber of the Michigan House of Representatives on April 30. The protesters were unhappy with the state’s stay-at-home order. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently extended the order through May 15, though restrictions were relaxed so some businesses could reopen.Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images (

I want to explore how past pandemics have affected social and political divisions within societies, especially if collective action was needed. There are potentially ways to increase our ability to collaborate and react to public health emergencies. This topic could go in many directions, but ultimately I hope to shed light on how to increase public participation, both for this crisis and for ones to come.

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