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Let’s Do Away With Idea That the Coronavirus Treats Everyone Equally

People walk past a sign that advises people to stay home in Times Square

This week, Madonna added her voice to the chorus of celebrities accidentally embarrassing themselves while trying to make us feel better about the coronavirus. In a now-deleted post, the singer sits naked in a bathtub sprinkled with rose petals and offers bland platitudes over a melancholy piano melody.

“That’s the thing about COVID-19,” she says. “It doesn’t care about how rich you are, how famous you are, how funny you are, how smart you are, where you live, how old you are, what amazing stories you can tell. It’s the great equalizer. What’s terrible about it is what’s great about it. What’s terrible about it is it’s made us all equal in many ways.”

This is, obviously, bullshit. I assume that’s why she deleted the post. But while Madonna’s romanticizing of the virus is especially icky, she’s not the only one pushing this narrative that the coronavirus is an “equalizer.” We’ve been hearing that a lot.

Daniel Dae Kim has criticized the lack of available tests, saying on Instagram, “Everyone who meets the qualifications should be tested, period, because the virus doesn’t care about race, or gender, religion, sexual orientation, whether you’re rich or poor, or your immigration status.”

Politicians across the country have been using some version of the “Coronavirus doesn’t discriminate based on age/race/wealth/political party” rhetoric, and it’s been the subject of innumerable think pieces and news segments, most of them focusing specifically on how “coronavirus doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor.”

While it’s true that in a vacuum, the coronavirus and other afflictions should affect everyone equally, that’s simply not the world we live in. In our reality, the wealthy and well-connected are have access to all sorts of things the rest of us don’t that make prevention and care much easier. You’ve probably noticed that celebrities have been sharing the results of their coronavirus tests, even when they’ve been asymptomatic. As of last week, members of just one NBA team reportedly made up 20% of all the tests done in Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, tests are in such limited supply right now that most regular, non-famous/extremely wealthy people are being denied testing, even when they’re very ill.

There are other advantages the rich and famous have in these times, too. Demand for private jets is skyrocketing. (Presumably so they can fly to their private islands?) It’s likely easier to self-isolate when you can do so in a mansion, with the means to stock up on essentials as well as luxuries, to send people out to run errands and buy groceries, and to still have access to childcare—not to mention the basic issue of being able to afford a break in income.

The coronavirus might not “care” who you are but it definitely affects us all differently. This virus will be–and already is–devastating for low-income and minimum wage workers, for those in the gig economy, for single parents, and most especially for those experiencing homelessness. Unemployment is already starting to soar and with that, a lot of people are losing not just their income but also their health insurance (if they had it in the first place). Some people will be hit much harder by that than others, and some will never see it impact their lives and their health directly.

The coronavirus is not an “equalizer.” If anything, it’s only going to increase our existing disparities.

(image: KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.