RESPONSE: Quarantine Fatigue Is Real 

Julia Marcus Professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School

A Manual for Life: Realistic Approaches for Communities of Color

In your recent piece “Quarantine Fatigue is Real” you noted “risk is not binary” – we cannot be forced to choose between staying healthy and a return to our former lives. Yet, we must acknowledge that disease transmission will continue to occur as the country begins to open up again. 

How do we proceed? Ideally, with a health equity lens that enables us to see how public health guidance creates an undue burden on some communities. We cannot simply advance a middle-class response in a context where people don’t have middle-class resources and opportunities. This is especially true in lower income black and brown communities. 

Many don’t have money for masks. Many live in supportive multi-generational households or other forms of congregate living arrangements that make social distancing difficult at best and impossible at worst.

For many, the stress of it all – the widespread and unpredictable illness and death, the rampant job loss, and the daily health exposures emanating from having to take public transportation to  high-risk essential jobs – compels people to do what is culturally natural – seek physical closeness and social connections with friends, neighbors and family. 

Life in many communities of color must be better understood and reflected in pubic health guidance.  If it is to be effective, the guidance must reflect the context in which people operate – it must meet people where they are. It must reflect the fact that context shapes behavior. 

Going forward with reopening, public health authorities must provide guidance that is realistic, contextually relevant and culturally resonant. A sustainable and actionable anti-coronavirus strategy must include messages, images and channels that leverage the strengths and assets, and reflect the needs and limitations, of under-resourced black and brown communities.