Photo by Cindy Cui

We have seen many drastic changes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, including the closure of several Ontario universities, the introduction of travel bans and a decline in group gatherings. This has forced many people to quickly adapt — for example, students are learning online, grocery stores have limited the number of toilet paper rolls you can buy and people are being restricted to their homes. Physical distancing, which involves minimizing contact with others, has affected societal norms to the point where we have changed the way that we are communicating. However, despite being physically distant, communities seem to be more tight-knit than ever. This has made me wonder — why can’t things always be this way?

I’ve seen a surge of Instagram stories and posts pop up on social media that are very different from the norm. Usually, I see carefully curated Instagram profiles, posts of places people are vacationing and aesthetic coffee dates. However, because most people are self-quarantining, we are unable to make those posts anymore. Instead, I’ve seen more intimate posts, ranging from self-love selfie challenges to posts appreciating others and even to open posts offering FaceTime chats to anyone who may feel isolated during this time. 

During this particularly isolating time, I’ve seen many more people reaching out to their loved ones. In fact, one of my friends has scheduled video calls with her family just so they can update each other on their lives. Despite the fact that we can no longer see each other in-person, I’ve had more friends reach out and talk to me because they want to check up on me or just get to know me better as a person. We’ve become increasingly connected despite the distance, and hopefully this is something we can continue to do when we’re no longer quarantined in our homes.

These individual actions and growing trends may seem insignificant during an ongoing pandemic, but many individuals taking these small actions in their lives can have a large impact on our community. One silver lining of COVID-19 is that this pandemic has truly brought the community together to care for those who need it most. For example, the McMaster Healthcare Students COVID-19 Response Team, an initiative created by McMaster University medical student Mary Boulos, is helping healthcare workers on the front line with errands they are currently unable to manage themselves. Student volunteers are helping healthcare workers with things such as child care, pet-sitting and groceries, among other things. Because of this initiative, healthcare workers such as nurses, doctors and hospital staff can focus on providing care to COVID-19 patients and not have to worry about taking care of their family and potentially infecting them.

Initiatives like these are not something people would usually dream of in a normal setting. When else would someone babysit your child for free because you’re swamped at work? If you need someone to take care of your child, the median cost for child care centres in Ontario is $1152 per month for an infant and $835 per month for a preschooler. Another option would be to hire a babysitter if you need someone for an on-and-off basis. However, because students have gained a lot more time on our hands due to in-person classes and extracurricular events being cancelled, they are able to provide free support for others.

Helping out our community comes in many forms. You can see it through in-person interactions such as the ones I’ve just mentioned, but you can also see it in other forms. For example, the McMaster University Campus Store is now providing free access to course materials until April 30. The Hamilton Street Railway is also asking people to board busses from the rear doors to protect their drivers and providing free transit until at least April 5. The Canadian government is also providing the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which provides workers with a taxable benefit of $2000 per month for up to four months if their income has been impacted by COVID-19. 

All these initiatives are in light of the current struggles that many people are facing due to the pandemic. I’ve seen so many people be more considerate, kind and forgiving because we’re all going through a very difficult time. But it also makes me wonder why we couldn’t have these safety nets and forms of support in the first place. This pandemic was a harsh lesson of how to be compassionate and kind to others when we all have to adapt to harsh circumstances. 

So far, we know that we are capable of reaching out to others to provide support during a very scary and isolating time that everyone is facing in different ways. We know we can show compassion to others on an individual level by checking in on loved ones or even forming new friendships. We also know that the university is able to provide free access to textbooks, that free transit has been provided in the worst circumstances and that the government can support those in need of a livable income. 

Maybe we didn’t realize we could accomplish these things in the first place and provide that safety net for people who need it most. But moving forward, we should remember that during a pandemic, we were capable of supporting each other. And that after all of this is over, we can and should do better when caring for our communities.

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