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The World's Reopening But How Safe Is It, Really?

I'm taking a different approach to highlight the gravity of COVID-19.

Life & Travel

Between mid-March and early June, we kept our eyes and ears glued to the news waiting on the bat signal permitting us to go outside and play again. We even listened to our governors' guidelines for three different reopening phases trying to figure out how soon we can schedule a happy hour with our girls or a wax, nail, and hair appointment at our favorite spas and salons.

But naturally, we also second-guessed these initial dates that our governors set because the 'Rona hadn't disappeared, it was way too soon especially when the numbers were still rising and our common sense warned us it's probably best to stay in our cribs.

None of that has changed yet. And when I really think about it, 'the Rona has every intent to take over our hot girl summer and with an anticipated second wave in the fall, are we destined to stay inside until this time 2021?

To be honest, I can't quarantine that long. I have moves to make and my introversion won't allow me to remain sane in a group setting for such an extended period. In no way am I dismissing anyone's circumstances or the seriousness of this virus, though. To date, we've lost over 132K of our fellow neighbors right here in the U.S and this virus disproportionately affects us. We're three times as likely to become infected and twice as likely to succumb to the virus. So, this isn't something I take lightly.

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Nevertheless people are slowly returning to their homes if they've been quarantined with others as well as venturing out to regain some semblance of a "normal" life. Besides, I've seen the fresh box braids and manicures on my newsfeed and I'm like, sis, you didn't do that yourself.

I've also seen a video clip of our people, masks off like the Future song, frolicking in a freakin' pool inside of an Atlanta nightclub. This was before Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that she has tested positive for coronavirus.

Yet, instead of stressing, "Stay home!" to the party-goers with a period and the added "T" when people are steadily going out anyway, I'm taking a different approach to highlight the gravity of COVID-19.

Let's take a look at various non-essential spaces, examine how sanitary or risky they are right now and explore alternative options and precautions to maintain our health.

Disclaimer: This article is not a directive to be reckless and engage in high-risk behavior during a pandemic. Instead, it is a comprehensive breakdown of how to navigate spaces outside of your home and minimize your chances of exposure while doing so. None of these methods are 100% effective at avoiding coronavirus. Return to your new "normal" at your discretion.

Hair and Nail Salons

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Unfortunately, the risk for a COVID-19 infection remains high at salons and barbershops regardless of any safety precautions because clients and employees can't realistically maintain a distance of 6 feet between one another. And if you're the one providing the service, you face an even greater risk because of the number of clients entering the shop daily. What's even more disturbing is that one person who enters the shop with COVID-19 symptoms can easily expose at least 100 clientele depending on how busy the establishment is, which is what happened at a St. Louis salon.

Safety tip: If you do go to the salon, stick with services that don't require you to remove your mask. In other words, that lip wax would have to wait. And only request one or two "emergency" services, not the full works, so you can shorten your time at the establishment. Check to be sure stylists are disinfecting chairs including headrests between clients and wearing single-use gloves.

Also, while it may be normal for you to chat with your stylist, it's suggested you refrain from your usual conversations. And don't grab a magazine to pass the time. In fact, they should already be removed from the waiting area and work stations.

You may also want to check to see if your fave shop offers extended hours to minimize the number of clients who are in the space at one time or a private room to accommodate clients who seek extra precautions.

And if you go to the nail shop, don't expect to test any colors. Better yet, take your own polish or get you some Kiss Luxe press-ons from Target or CVS.

Restaurants and Bars

Full disclosure: My cousin and I ate in a restaurant during lunchtime in mid-June. There was a maximum number of patrons who could dine at once and no one was seated behind us or next to us. Additionally, all condiments like ketchup bottles and salt and pepper shakers were removed from the tables and our menu was disposable. And if I remember correctly, so was our silverware.

While the sign on the door mandated that all patrons wear masks, not everyone who entered the establishment had one on. Granted, you can't eat and drink with your mask on but this is why restaurants and bars (and clubs, too!) will continue to be high-risk.

Safety tip: Outdoor or patio seating is a tad bit safer than inside dining, provided the seating isn't along a sidewalk where potentially unmasked people are constantly walking by. If your state allows you to dine-in, choose large, well-ventilated restaurants that can abide by the 6-feet social distancing rules as well as operate with fewer staff (with masks!) and patrons. And if you enter a restaurant and there's a full-on buffet, exit immediately.

It's also safer to dine out with those you've quarantined with rather than meet up with friends you haven't seen in the past four months. And, of course, there's definitely the carryout option or no-contact delivery where the driver leaves your food (protected) at your front door.

Gyms And Spas

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Gyms are danger zones. They can be tricky because the equipment is practically side-by-side and then there's moisture from sweat. Furthermore, how plausible is it that the gym staff can sanitize every bit of equipment between each use? Spas are also iffy with skin-to-skin contact. And while I'm yearning to get back in the yoga studio, I realize it's too tight and that community equipment like the yoga blocks are also hard to clean.

Safety tip: One word: towels. Plural. And wipes. Next, check to be sure that the gym has restricted access to every other machine and possibly placed barriers around equipment. Some gyms may even require members to reserve a block of time to use the gym and staff will clean in between blocks.

Also ask about the facility's updated policies regarding the usage of locker rooms. And although it's not the same as being on-site, there's also an option to workout virtually. Or outside.

If you book an appointment for a massage, ask the spa about their laundry policy for linens, towels, and other washable items. Also, ensure that your massage therapist follows hand-washing and hygiene protocols like definitely wearing a mask and maybe some clean gloves.

Airports, Airplanes, Hotels, and Airbnbs

Airports and airplanes are high-traffic areas. No pun intended. But apparently they're not as high-risk as gyms, salons, restaurants, and churches. Although now I can't get the thought out of my head that, as one of my friends recently pointed out, everyone stands up and crowds one another once the plane lands.

Safety tip: Before you book your flight, check travel advisories with both your airline and your destination. The last thing you want to do is arrive in another state and find out you need to self-quarantine for 14 days. Also, ensure that the middle seats on your airline are empty and find out for how long. (For example: Southwest isn't opening the middle seat until after September 30th.)

You're currently allowed to carry on 12 ounces of hand sanitizer so take advantage of it. Bring your wipes and wipe down the seats, trays, and armrests, although the airlines are supposed to disinfect between every landing and takeoff. And don't look for magazines, pillows, and blankets.

When you check-in to your hotel, find some cleaning supplies and disinfect high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, remotes, and faucet handles. And if you opt for an Airbnb, reserve the entire property or ask how many people will be in and out of the residence during your stay.

Churches

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While places of worship are traditionally safe spaces, they are considered among the unsafest when it comes to COVID transmission. Right now, I'm fine with Bedside Baptist. In fact, I just "attended" church online with viewers of the 2020 Virtual Essence Fest. I still got the word and some praise and worship with Tamela Mann. Hallalu! (In my Tamar Braxton voice.)

Safety tip: Some churches are hosting parking lot services where everything takes place outside and parishioners can remain in their cars. But if you're attending service inside of a church, check to see if there's a limit on the size of the congregation. Maybe the church will add services and clean in between. But still avoid touching hymnals and the collection plate. Use apps on your phone to read scriptures and tithe or use a stationary collection box.

As the weeks progress, guidelines may change and perhaps our governors will simply shut down establishments all over again. While that might be the downfall of many small businesses, it'll be a windfall for us who are doing way too much, way too fast.

However, if and when we do go outside, I just need us to remain well-informed and exercise extreme caution. Always wear your masks, scrub your hands and maintain those six feet like our lives literally depend on it because, well, they really do.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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