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Coronavirus

A Letter to Dr. Henry from Hardest Hit Surrey

Pleading for help, a teacher reminds why part of the city shows up red on leaked documents.

Lizanne Foster 10 May 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Lizanne Foster began teaching in South Africa during the apartheid-era. She’s taught humanities in the Surrey School District since 1997. Find her blog here.

Dear Dr. Henry,

I’m hoping that this note will provide you with some insights into the lives of the people who live in that northwest corner of Surrey which leaked documents reveal has the lowest vaccination rates and the above 20-per-cent positivity rate for the COVID-19 virus.

You must know that that same corner of Surrey is consistently highlighted in reports on poverty as having some of the highest childhood poverty rates in B.C.

If you live in this corner of Surrey, you’re likely to be an immigrant who speaks many languages except English. You are likely to work at least two jobs.

You were a business owner in your country of origin. Or a professional with a good middle-class lifestyle. But here, you’re an "essential worker" whose work keeps the economy going but is not important enough to get you paid on the days you’re off sick.

When you have COVID-like symptoms, you weigh the definite outcome of hunger and eviction against the possibility of having COVID. If you don’t go in to work, you don’t get paid, and if you don’t get paid, your family doesn’t eat because the little money you do have must go to rent.

Your family is unlikely to own a car, so even if you wanted to get tested, you’d have to find a way to use the bus that only runs once every hour in your neighbourhood. There is an additional problem in that Translink warns you shouldn’t be on a bus if you’re sick.

You can’t afford a taxi.

So, when you’re sick, you just stay home and hope to feel better in a day or so.

When you stay home sick, you cannot isolate yourself from other family members because there are many of you sharing a two-bedroom basement suite. You do your best, but it’s inevitable that other family members get sick as well.

582px version of LowerMainlandCOVIDPositivityRates.jpg
The deep red for Surrey’s northwest corner indicates highest COVID-19 positivity rates in the region. The map was among BC Centre for Disease Control internal documents recently leaked to the media.

Your children attend schools in Surrey. You keep getting notifications about exposures in those schools. They are in English, and have a note at the top telling you in your first language to get the notice translated, but you don’t have time. Your translators, your children, have often gone to bed by the time you get home from work, and you’ve gone to work before they wake up to go to school.

So, Dr. Henry, how do you propose to provide this community with the resources they need?

If Public Health could keep in mind the daily reality of people living in this corner of Surrey, wouldn’t there be a completely different approach, aligned with community characteristics, not just statistics?

People who live in the northwest corner of Surrey are more than the numbers in those leaked documents. They are B.C. citizens who are doing their best to survive in a pandemic despite having far fewer resources than most of us do.

You have the power to help them.

Please do.

Sincerely,

A Surrey Teacher


This is reprinted with permission from the blog of Surrey public school teacher Lizanne Foster.  [Tyee]

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