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diSConnected: Is Ayn Rand or Mother Teresa better for protecting South Carolinians with disabilities?

The pandemic is far from over for people whose physical issues bring immunity issues along for the ride. But don't think you can ignore them as you get your life back together.
Tim Mossholder
The pandemic is far from over for people whose physical issues bring immunity issues along for the ride. But don't think you can ignore them as you get your life back together.

This story is part of ‘diSConnected,’ an occasional series from South Carolina Public Radio that looks at how South Carolinians are coping with loneliness and connection after two years in the COVID pandemic.

Brad Morris doesn’t want your pity. He doesn’t want your guilt. He doesn’t even want you to think about other people. He wants you to save your own butt, because if you put all your efforts into saving yourself, you just might save him by accident.

“You should ventilate, you should wear a mask, you should vaccinate not because you care about anyone else, screw everyone else,” he says. “You should do this because it’s going to help you not contribute to incubating variants that are going to come back and bite you in your ass.”

He does think there’s still plenty of room to appeal to the kindness of others; plenty of people are good and kind and want to do right by people, he says. But for the ones who just don’t seem to get it that walking around carrying and incubating a virus that preys on weakened immune systems is a bad thing, his messaging has changed: Forget about helping others on purpose and embrace the value of selfishness.

Angry as his sentiment might be, there’s actually a lot of selflessness in it. Morris, a power-wheelchair user whose physical disabilities can lead to potentially dangerous respiratory problems if he were to contract COVID-19, doesn’t want people to get the virus and end up in their own wheelchair – nor to end up having to turn to GoFundMe, as he did, to raise the money to buy one.

He worries that people are not thinking of the possibility of being injured or disabled by long-COVID. That’s a sentiment shared by Scarlet Novak, another power-wheelchair user who, despite staying masked and largely removed from the company of others these past two years, got a flu from (they suspect) a few seconds at the doctor’s office when they were both unmasked.

“I just feel like a lot of people are not taking [COVID] as seriously as they should be,” Novak says. “There are still people who could get sick and be hospitalized because of it.”

In February, the Center for American Progress reported that COVID-19 created 1.2 million more people with disabilities in the United States. The article cites U.S. Board of Labor Statistics estimates that roughly 496,000 of those people newly defined as disabled because of COVID complications are in the workforce.

But people are tired of COVID stories. Sources and casual friends alike have told me dozens of times that they no longer listen to or watch the news because it’s all about COVID. Out in public, few people still wear masks, and mass gatherings and events are proceeding like it’s 2018 again. And Morris says the world sometimes seems eager to look past people with disabilities as everyone turns back to a normal that a lot of people can’t join in on.

He suggests efforts towards harm reduction, not mandates and laws; on getting people to think of simpler things, like considering masks, not because you might get sick, but because someone else might.

But he’s not bothering to appeal altruism anymore.

“Step one seems to be coming across as human so people will listen to you,” he says. “Maybe we can’t do that and our only, our last, our best hope is to find ways of appealing to people’s self-interest.”

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.