I have felt safe here all along. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt worried, just that my worries have not been about myself or my immediate family here in Singapore. As this virus proliferates in our home country, I have new worries, including , of course, some starring those I love.
The reality is that America is a place governed by the bizarre idea that some lives matter more than others. Those in power imply this in countless ways, but for the sake of this blog post, I’ll focus on the way that current healthcare and employment policy creates a situation that makes even the healthy and insured less safe than they’d be here in Singapore.
In America, there are people afraid to miss a day of work. Even though I worked in a job where I had a right to sick days, me missing work made my work fall into the laps of other people, which created a culture in which you had to ask yourself if you were sick enough to justify this redistribution of labor.
Of course, there are people for whom sick days come at a financial cost of lost wages that they can’t afford. There are people for whom taking sick days make them feel like they’re putting a target on their back for the next round of layoffs. All in, there are countless people who are motivated to show up to work even if they feel under the weather.
Sick people pretending they aren’t all that sick so they can go about their business are a way to exponentially increase the magnitude of a pandemic.
Then there’s healthcare costs and uneven coverage which mean that there are people who need medical attention who will be reluctant to seek it. This will guarantee more fatalities as avoiding treatment increases the likelihood of complications developing. It also promises that more people will be exposed to the virus during the time in which those infected delay treatment because they are fearful of the financial repercussions of asking for help.
Of course, I’ve already seen news of American universities hard at work identifying drug therapies. Science may yet allow America to become the hero the world needs. Some drug company will see its stock catapult when it releases it has a vaccine or a treatment. But this won’t erase the fact that people will have lost their lives needlessly. That our country could have afforded to care for anyone with symptoms regardless of their employment or citizenship status and that refusing to do so has made every American less safe. Rhetoric in America currently makes those who are elderly or immunocompromised feel like they are are somehow dispensable, that a novel virus that may only kill them isn’t necessarily one that the rest of the population should give a damn about.
So yes, we feel safe here. We know that anyone who gets sick, whether they are a Singaporean or a federal domestic worker or an expatriate, will be given high quality medical attention immediately. We know that those who have been in contact with the infected will be given orders to sequester themselves that they must follow. We feel like we can fundamentally trust the government and that their response is tactical and scientifically sound, but also ethical and consistent. We feel like we can expect those around us to make decisions that prioritize the good of all over the good of themselves and if they don’t, they’ll be penalized for their exceptionalism.
But this isn’t our home. And it’s weird feeling like we might be better off overseas than we would be in our home country, even though as a young family with health insurance, we’d fare well enough in either place. It’s forced me to confront a new kind of privilege that I wish I could drape all those back home in, the privilege to feel protected not just because you are a useful cog in a complex economic machine, but because you’re a person, and that’s all we should ever have to be to deserve dignity. That time to rest when we are ill and medical services that could extend our lives aren’t things you need to earn, but things every last one of us deserves.