Passengers walk through Salt Lake City International Airport on October 27, 2020 in Salt Lake City.
Doctor: Holiday travel like pouring gasoline on surging cases
03:21 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Cristina Alesci is a business and politics correspondent for CNN, covering financial markets, economic policy and campaigns. The views expressed here are her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN  — 

We’ve got this.

That’s what I thought when the Covid-19 pandemic first hit the US and experts were just asking Americans to wash our hands – and then wear masks and avoid each other as best as we could. Those seemed like minor concessions to make for everyone’s health and safety.

Cristina Alesci

Admittedly, I was looking at the pandemic through the eyes of someone with an incurable disease: Type 1 Diabetes.

My immune system attacks the cells that make insulin, which my body needs to turn carbohydrates like sugar, into energy. High sugar levels in the blood can destroy nerve cells and trigger other chronic illnesses. The consequences of ignoring my disease are fatal.

Thankfully, T1D is uncommon – affecting about 1.6 million people nationwide.

Lathering my hands with soap one day in early May, preparing to prick my finger and draw blood to measure my blood sugar level, I reflected on the many silent sacrifices I have made to keep myself alive and healthy. I have to prick my finger five times a day and implant a meter on my body. I need to measure every carbohydrate in each of my meals (even snacks). I have to inject insulin daily and carry sugar with me everywhere in case I dose more than needed. I have to exercise daily (though we all should do that).

Thinking about all of this made me optimistic that my fellow Americans would make the much smaller sacrifices to buy time for our doctors, nurses and scientists to beat Covid-19.

I also hoped that a national collective effort to stop the spread of the virus might make us stronger and healthier as a country – just like being diagnosed with T1D five years earlier made me more mindful about my own wellness.

I recalled the days following my diagnosis, learning my life would never be “normal.” I raged at the loss of freedoms and the need to accept the restrictions that managing T1D would impose on me for the rest of my life.

It hurt like hell. But I did it.

Early in the pandemic, I knew America would hurt as I had. But it wouldn’t be forever – only a short period of time. We’d all get over the initial pain and anger, then follow the science to do what was needed to beat the disease. I truly believed that.

Unlike for people with Type 2 Diabetes, which is far more prevalent, the threat of increased Covid risk is less clear for people with T1D; the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says we might be at greater risk for severe illness.

For a time during the late spring and summer, I was cheering Americans across the country – and maybe a little louder in my hard-hit native New York City – for the fight they were putting up. As the case numbers started to fall, my hopes soared.

But now, as the pandemic rages and experts warn of the dire consequence of reckless behavior over the Thanksgiving holiday, I have a different outlook.

The US is currently clocking over 100,000 new coronavirus infections a day because we have failed to stop or even slow the spread. My heart breaks as I report on how misinformation about herd immunity and denialism found their way into our national dialogue. Wearing a mask has become a symbol of repression in some circles, rather than a mark of someone who cares about their friends, neighbors and family. North Dakota, Iowa and Montana waited until this latest surge to implement mask mandates and some places still refuse to adopt them – despite mounting evidence that they work!

I also wonder: if most Americans were to be diagnosed with T1D, how soon after that would they lose a leg or go blind or die? Not too long, is my grim conclusion.

That may sound harsh, but managing T1D takes time, energy and lifestyle adjustment. It means living with restrictions – not doing whatever you want to do, whenever you feel like doing it.

Ironically, these limitations actually enable a full life and keep me out of a hospital bed, where I surely would have no freedom.

Similarly, some Americans now equate going maskless in public with individual liberty, even though doing so will keep the country longer in the grip of the virus and under the specter of greater restrictions.

America is sick. We can each play a part in healing our nation and protecting each other by temporarily accepting a few minor restrictions in our lives. Yet some of my fellow Americans seem unwilling to accept even a small compromise to their individual freedom for a cause greater than themselves.

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    It’s really not much to ask.

    All you have to do is wear a mask over your mouth and nose in public, avoid other people and wash your hands regularly. For another six months, until everyone who wants it can take the vaccine.

    So if you’re someone who won’t wear one, why the hell can’t you do that?