Protecting Society’s Most Vulnerable During National Emergencies

Senator Maggie Hassan Weighs in on What Could Have Been Done Better During the COVID-19 Pandemic


When we sat down with New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan in May 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was raging in the United States. The country was in a midst of one of the largest lockdowns in its history, with every facet of daily life substantially impacted.


In the span of a couple weeks in mid-March, schools and universities closed, restaurants became takeout only, and most businesses switched to remote work. When people had to venture out for essential tasks like grocery stores or hospital visits, six feet of social distancing and mask mandates were enforced in the majority of the country.


It was the new normal that every person in the U.S., and much of the world, had to quickly adapt to.


But for the disability and the immunocompromised communities, it signaled the beginning of a year-long struggle to maintain independence and health.


With record unemployment rates, a fraction of public transportation running, and a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), pre-existing emergency protocols for vulnerable communities needed substantial reimaging to address the needs across the U.S.


What was Already in Place When COVID-19 Struck?


For many states, emergency protocols had already been drafted and developed in collaboration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These plans outlined how to help the states’ vulnerable populations in the event of natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, fires, or tornados.


However, few plans had been drafted for the event of a pandemic, where help was not needed to evacuate residents but instead needed to provide home-based caregiving services for individuals who depended on it. An added complication to creating effective protocols was that most house-bound patients had both mobility issues and were immunocompromised, making PPE and sanitation a top priority for caregivers working with the vulnerable community.


Senator Maggie Hassan was intimately familiar with the lack of foresight in emergency planning for vulnerable populations during the pandemic. She spent the first few weeks of lockdown sequestered at home with her son, Ben, who has cerebral palsy and is immunocompromised. She expressed her frustration at the lack of PPE that made caregivers susceptible to catching and transmitting COVID-19 to patients.


The Need for Revamped Emergency Protocols


Given her experience, Hassan advocated for the development of new emergency protocols and the assistance of all members of society to guarantee the wellbeing of their fellow Americans.


She pointed to the need for emergency planning that upgraded delivery capacity for medications to vulnerable communities. She also spoke of the need for a better education for caregivers, one that educated front-line workers and at-home caregivers on how to properly work with PPE for personal protection and on how to utilize proper sanitation for their clients’ health and wellbeing.


At the same time, Hassan looked to the public to help protect vulnerable communities. The social distancing measures and mask mandates were not only necessary for personal health, but also the health of those who were immunocompromised and still needed to run essential errands at the height of the pandemic.


Some of the emergency protocols and public health mandates could be accomplished by federal and state-level legislation. Others needed the cooperation of the public to ensure the health of vulnerable communities.


Now, a year into the pandemic, life is slowly returning to normal. PPE is available for all caregivers who need it, as well as for immunocompromised people who need to complete essential tasks. Public transportation is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels and the COVID-19 vaccine is being dispersed across the country.


However, many people who are immunocompromised are not cleared to take the vaccine, making mask mandates and social distancing a crucial part of life to ensure that all members of the community -- including those who have disabilities and are immunocompromised -- can safely return to a degree of normal life that includes safe community outreach and interaction.


Want to listen to Senator Maggie Hassan Talk in Her Own Words? Check out Traipsin’ Global on Wheel’s Podcast at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sq3snuBYQvE

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