Mar 22, 2022 - Podcasts

How reopening affects disabled and immunocompromised people

People are returning to in-person work, mask and vaccine mandates have come down nationwide, but U.S. health officials are anticipating a new rise in COVID-19 cases because of the B.A. 2 variant. And many people with disabilities, or who are immunocompromised, are feeling vulnerable and left behind in this rush to reopen.

  • Plus, Ukraine is losing patience with Israel.
  • And, a moment of joy from the cherry blossom-filled US capital.

Guests: Beatrice Adler-Bolton, a disability justice advocate and writer based in New York and Axios' Barak Ravid.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, March 22nd.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re following today: Ukraine is losing patience with Israel. And later, a moment of joy from the cherry blossom-filled US capital.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: how COVID reopening is affecting disabled and immunocompromised people.

People are returning to in-person work, mask and vaccine mandates have come down nationwide, but U.S. health officials are anticipating a new rise in COVID-19 cases because of the B.A. 2 variant. And many people with disabilities, or who are immunocompromised, are feeling vulnerable and left behind in this rush to reopen. Here's what some of you told us.

JENNI: Hi Niala. My name is Jenni Huston. I live in Burlington, Vermont. I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. As most people are getting back to normal without worrying about COVID, I feel like I'm even more acutely aware of my risk.

VICTORIA: My name is Victoria. I live in Atlanta. My son is four years old and he is immune compromised. Asking others to wear masks around us is just really causing a complete social isolation for our entire family.d back

JASMINE: I'm Jasmine. I live in Orlando, and I am disabled and immunocompromised. We already require extra accommodations that aren't always met in public facilities. So now going out into public is even more anxiety-inducing, especially being here in Florida, where only about half the population is vaccinated.

ANGELA: Hi, Niala. My name's Angela. I live in Seattle, Washington, and I have been a first line healthcare provider. I also live with several disabilities. Personally, I plan to continue to wear my mask. And I hope that our officials will start to see that this is too early and they'll back off a little.

NIALA: Thanks to all of you for sharing. Now, to talk about all of this with me is Beatrice Adler-Bolton, a disability justice advocate and writer based in New York. Hi, Beatrice.

BEATRICE ADLER-BOLTON: Hi, thank you so much for having me on.

NIALA: You're not just an advocate. You're also a member of this community. I wanted to start by asking what personally you worry about.

BEATRICE: Personally, as an immunocompromised person, I'm most worried right now about the rollback of mask mandates, because it means there's going to be a lot more case spread, and a lot more virus out in the air than there was before. As these norms shift, and we move away from the pandemic protections that we're all very used to. You know, it only makes daily life much more dangerous for people like me who don't respond to the vaccine the same way as other people.

NIALA: What kind of public health guidance would you like to see happen right now?

BEATRICE: I think at a bare minimum, I would like to see us immediately return to the prior system of setting the risk level for each county in the United States. The CDC updated the way that it was calculating the risk level of each county, and it's no longer tied just to case levels. And the new recommendations allow for many more cases to be occurring in the community before the CDC starts to recommend masking. And I think the way that we need to prepare for future variants is to immediately go back to this old-level system, or at least change the guidelines, so that we start recommending masking at much lower case levels.

NIALA: We were just hearing from some people who have family members who are immunocompromised or people who are living with disabilities. What are you hearing from these communities about how they're dealing with this phase of the pandemic?

BEATRICE: It's not just the vulnerable, it's also all of the people that are in our lives that are a part of our lives that are a part of our sort of networks outside of our immediate, individual selves. right? We need to be setting examples about how to protect people. And right now what we're doing is we're setting an example that it's okay to not mask. And that makes it very difficult for people like me and for all of the people in my life to go about this next phase of the pandemic.

NIALA: So we talked about what you'd like public health professionals and officials to do. What about the rest of us? What can individuals concerned about these communities do to help right now?

BEATRICE: So obviously as an individual, you can yourself choose to continue to mask and you can do that because you wanna stand in solidarity with the vulnerable, because you want to help to set a good example or because you are yourself someone who would prefer to avoid getting COVID. And I think that right now with funding, Congressional funding, for COVID precautions being really in jeopardy, it's a really important moment to pressure people in local government, and in state government, and in the federal government, who represent you and let them know that you, you want to have protections. That you do not want to contract COVID whether you're vulnerable or not. If we're going to learn to live COVID, then we need to have things in place to safely live with COVID.

NIALA: Do you feel like you've been left out?

BEATRICE: Absolutely. Or I've been included in a kind of imaginary version of the United States, because a lot of these pandemic plans sort of pretend that vulnerable people like me live often in a little bubble somewhere. And we don't, we live in society. We’re your neighbors, we’re your friends, we’re your coworkers, we’re all around you. But I can't protect myself if other people can't also protect themselves.

NIALA: Beatrice Adler-Bolton is a disability justice advocate and writer. Thanks, Beatrice.

BEATRICE: Thank you so much, Niala.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with Axios’ Barak Ravid on Israel’s role in the Russian war.

Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to Israeli lawmakers this weekend in a virtual address, criticizing Israel for not taking a harder line against Russia and fully supporting Ukraine. That’s why I reached out to Axios’ Middle East Correspondent Barak Ravid to ask him - where does Israel stand in all of this?

BARAK RAVID: Well Niala, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is the only Western leader who visited Moscow since the Russian invasion, uh, started. He went to see Putin because Israel is one of the only countries in the world that actually has good relations with both Ukraine and Russia.

Uh, long before the invasion, Zelenskyy even asked Bennett to propose to Putin, to hold some sort of a summit in Jerusalem between Zelenskyy and Putin. And when the war started, this role became more prominent. One of the reasons that Bennett started this, is because Israel was under pressure to take a very clear position on the war and when Bennett started mediating, he was able to say to both the U.S. and European countries, “Listen, I cannot condemn Russia in a very clear way because then I'm not gonna be able to continue to mediate. And it was Zelensky who asked me to mediate.”

This worked out for something like two weeks, but in the last few days, I think that the Ukrainian patience for what Bennett is doing is starting to run out. Because the Ukrainians feel that Bennett is not a real mediator. They feel that he's like a mailbox. And a Ukrainian official told me, “We don't need another mailbox.

We need real mediators who can put compromises on the table and start pushing both sides.” And I think that in his speech on Sunday, Zelenskyy really harshly criticized Bennett for his so-called mediation. Later, he, you know, backtracked a bit. But all in all until now what Bennett is doing didn't really bear much fruit.

That’s Axios’ Barak Ravid.

Before I leave you today - why yesterday was the perfect first full day of spring in DC.

“Clouds on earth. I think they're so pretty. Just delicate…”

"It's absolutely beautiful. you can see pictures, but you have to come and experience it to really get the true essence of the cherry blossom.”

Washington DC’s beloved cherry blossoms are at peak bloom right now, earlier than expected, and drawing huge crowds of visitors, like Nathan and Chevette from Manassas Virginia - who were excited to take in the first officially sanctioned cherry blossom viewing since 2019.

For the last two years the festival, normally a major tourist draw for the city, was disrupted by covid – with virtual events and blockades set up to prevent crowds.

"So don't tell the park police, we jumped the rope and actually went over and saw some next to the Jefferson Memorial."

Now though – the crowds are being welcomed back, as the trees put on a spectacular show in the sunshine.

I’ll tweet out my own photos for you.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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