Those who do not connect the effects of poverty on health are the ones putting the rest of us at long-term risk. Coronavirus is so much more than being sick for a couple of weeks.

Los Angeles is a literal “hot mess”

It was only a matter of time before coronavirus hit Southern California. As of March 3, we now have a declared emergency in Los Angeles County. Given that L.A. is diverse, full of transplants (like me!), a major travel hub, absolutely filthy, and about to face the start of tourist season, it was only a matter of time before the virus found its way here.

It’s going to be a very long couple of years.

Los Angeles is many things. It’s beautiful in its own way and sometimes its beauty has to be experienced, not seen. From legendary buildings with stunning architecture to the stifling sensation of being baked alive in the middle of October heatwaves, it’s a city that we love dearly and also love to hate. When things go wrong, they really go wrong. Coronavirus will bring this city to its knees.

City sanitation, on the street level, is a joke. I’ve seen a few paid public toilet facilities but learned exactly once not to use them. I know of exactly two other freely-available toilets to use in downtown if I need them without PIN access. Trashcans are almost always overflowing. In downtown from Pershing Square all the way to the Arts District, I just choke down the scent of excrement that wafts through. It’s a mixture of bad plumbing and lack of access to facilities for the tens of thousands of vulnerable and homeless populations that run through these areas.

All of this goes on right next door to City Hall, which had a typhus outbreak so bad that they blamed it on the homeless people who nap on its manicured lawns.

These conditions are not the result of one single thing, but many: reluctant NIMBY reactions to anything resembling accessible and affordable housing, low wages and predatory capitalism, and little access to healthcare.

But now, coronavirus has arrived, these conditions have not changed much, and so we wait.

How I will get it

I won’t get coronavirus from my job and thankfully I won’t likely give it to anyone there, either. I work in a home office and I’m rarely ever closer than six feet to someone else I work with.

The journey there is a whole other story, however. I have a 75-to-90 minute commute from my place near downtown Los Angeles to the Westside. Both major routes I take by Metro are almost always overcrowded in the morning.

Few riders use LA Metro because they want to. If I need to get anywhere, I must use Metro. I’m a low-wage part-time worker. I’m just like the customer service, retail, food and wait staff, and, ironically, janitorial and sanitation workers, not to mention students, that all use LA Metro. I see sick people on these routes constantly, several times a week. One of my main routes goes right by a hospital and the bus empties out of sick people all with varying levels of disease and injury.

That LA Metro has doubled-down on not increasing their cleaning because they haven’t “seen an effect on ridership” makes my blood boil.

It’s only a matter of time before someone coughs on a one-carriage-short, standing-room-only Expo train during morning rush hour, dooming us all.

What will happen when I do

I have Medi-Cal but I’ve yet to see my final startup paperwork (time of writing is March 5, my coverage was to start March 1, and I’ve been working on this process since October 2019). I haven’t the foggiest idea and haven’t heard from them what the plan is for those who suspect they have the coronavirus, aside from Newsom waiving all co-pays for preventative testing.

When I contract it, I will almost certainly be immediately banned from the office, so as not to infect the family that lives there. I won’t be offered work-from-home access unlike my boss. I will stay home, unpaid, sipping my coffee, obsessively checking my bank account and re-calculating only to end up with a zero or negative numbers. I’ll look at what meager savings I have and realize that they’ll never grow no matter what; every year, something comes along and washes them away.

There is no safety net to protect me or the millions of underpaid workers after we’re put on furlough to protect everyone else around us. Unemployment insurance only pays out about a third of net wages; only after about four weeks of investigation; only long well after the fact one can prove the reason for unemployment was “valid.” Employers are not required to care about us and so it will be the nature of the beast that they simply won’t bother. It’s always one-way traffic on a two-way road.

The consequences of all of that will follow me much longer than the virus itself. It will mean months of catching up on bills, again, looking for second and third jobs, hoping I don’t get it again. I may physically recover in days but I will struggle and crawl for months after.

“Lives matter more than jobs!”

The only reason middle- and upper-class people are worried about this is that they know it will eventually get to them no matter what. It never mattered before if their regular server at lunch had the sniffles (as if they’d ever know because it’s usually covered up) or that the daycare worker had to send home a toddler with a fever the day before.

When poor people catch this and spread it around because there are no answers and no help from our jobs or government about what to do and how we’ll survive after we recover, we will be blamed for not staying home. It will be our fault if people die.

Not the fault of starvation wages that prevent us from stocking up on extra food or saving any money just in case, not the fault of lack of access to healthcare that we desperately need, not the fault of those who rely on us to keep their better-paid lives moving, their kids fed and bathed, their lunches served fresh every day. Not the fault of those chosen to be in charge of containing this and helping their citizens survive.

I’m not worried about surviving the virus. Thankfully I’ve always been in good health for most of my adult life. Of course, I will do my part to protect others when the time comes, but what about people protecting me so I can do so safely and securely?

If I don’t work, my landlord does not care. If I have to quarantine, my wireless carrier certainly doesn’t care. Not staying home if I’m sick isn’t an act of selfishness, it’s survival. I wish I could stay home and not worry about the indefinite future because one virus can ruin mine.

COVID-19 may be a virus, but the true infection here is greed and class warfare, and it’s a stark reminder that our personal identity, worldview, and self-esteem are deeply intertwined with economic class. Those who do not connect the effects of poverty on health are the ones putting the rest of us at long-term risk. Coronavirus is so much more than being sick for a couple of weeks.

You don’t get to say “lives matter more; stay home if you’re sick” and then in the same breath ignore our pleas about the dangers of inaccessible healthcare, appropriate sick time, and job security in the wake of a pandemic. You don’t get to try and shush our fears and anxiety about something that poor people see as an inevitability; we are the ones who live with this kind of economic fallout whenever we get sick every day. You don’t get to tell us that lives matter more when we cannot survive without our work.

When — not if — I catch coronavirus, I will do my part to protect others. But who will do their part to protect me? If it is about everyone, why don’t people like me matter after the fact?


I’m a writer, author, and essayist based in Los Angeles. I’d be delighted to connect with you through my mailing listTwitterInstagram, or Facebook (in that order).

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