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March 5, 2021
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Inequity during a Pandemic

By: Natasha Senteney
January 22, 2021

Amazon, Aldi, Walmart, FreshDirect, Kroger, Safeway, Albertson’s, The Fresh Grocer, Hy-Vee, H-E-B, Carlie C’s IGA, Dash’s Market, Wright’s Market—these are the stores within the U.S. that currently offer online ordering with an EBT card. Less than half of these are available to California residents, not all of which are accessible to those living in the Bay Area, and only three—Amazon, Aldi and Walmart offer an option for delivery. The closest Aldi is in Fresno, nearly two-hundred miles away; Amazon, which boasts three sub-stores, Amazon Fresh, Amazon Pantry, and Amazon Grocery, offers a limited selection of food products, none of them fresh unless you live in either San Francisco or Los Angeles; and Walmart charges $20 for delivery. 

We continue to be, after a year, in the midst of a global pandemic. Since March of last year we have been asked to stay at home, distance ourselves physically from others and to venture out into public only for essential needs. Ten months have lapsed between then and now. Ten months, potentially, to adapt, expand, modify, adjust—and yet many, including SNAP recipients (CalFresh for California residents) continue to have minimal options.

At the beginning of January, I was tested for Covid-19. I stood in line in the parking lot of the Rohnert Park Health Center for over an hour. In front of me, a string of over fifty people wrapped around the perimeter of the pavement as more still amassed behind me.

“If I test positive I’m (expletive alternative for ‘in trouble’)” someone behind me laughs, nervous, impatiently shifting their weight from one foot to the other, nodding their head to the “yups” and “uhuhs” they receive in agreement.

We’re told to stay home, inundated with encouragement and pleas to stick it out for the benefit of our individual and communal health and well-being. What happens when the resources to achieve adequate social cooperation are lacking, severely, for a substantial portion of our population? A will to comply and the ability to comply are not always so conveniently aligned. Like my neighbors in the testing line, like so many others, I wonder what will happen if I, or anyone else in my household gets sick. The ability to quarantine is, unfortunately, a privilege. 

For most of the Bay Area—an area that tends to pride itself on providing a slew of resources to its low-income and other under-represented citizens, many resources needed to ensure the health and safety of all of our residents, during a time of national and global crisis, continue to be far less than adequate. The cooperation of our entire population, or even a majority of our population to adhere to health and safety guidelines relies on the assumption that we all possess the means to do so. For an individual to be able to quarantine, as an example, would require remote access to all things necessary to their survival, something that is not currently available to a considerable amount of people. 

There is an undeniable culture in the United States, California not excluded, of expectations exceeding support given. In our current state this has not shown to be any less true and in many ways has become even more acutely apparent. Even now, as I sit at home typing this on my laptop, I’m reminded that not everyone has access to a device capable of remotely connecting with necessary resources—during a time when this access may be imperative. Where I may have access to benefits, albeit temporarily, that allow me to stay home rather than go to work, others may be forced to regularly leave home in order to financially support themselves. Likewise, I have the advantage of working in a field that allows me the possibility to work remotely. Unfortunately, the reality is not always that there are those who choose to follow our current guidelines and mandates and those who choose to stray from them. The choice in this instance is often an illusion. We are all in the thick of a global health crisis, and the consequences of these disparities are something that every person, regardless of means or level of support they have access to, will be subject to in some way.