Natick resident Abby Brown, like many parents, has been facing down a certain level of anxiety over sending her 4- and 7-year olds to school as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 surges. As a way of funneling that anxiety toward something useful, Brown, an economist, started Natick COVID Mutual Aid, a Facebook group for Natick residents that she hopes will serve as a way to “help people be intentional about sharing resources.”
As administrator of the page, Brown crafted the following description: “At home COVID tests are a key way to prevent transmission chains, but they are in short supply. Members of this group are committed to helping Natick reduce the spread of COVID through sharing resources, particularly at-home COVID tests, high-quality masks, and information about testing and vaccine sites.”
Brown got the idea for the group while scrolling through her own feeds. “I was noticing on social media groups a lot of people were looking for tests and sharing information how to buy them.” She thought that by creating a space where the Natick community could be intentional about sharing resources, a community connection could be fostered and serve as one more tool to help people live and work more safely during the pandemic.
If one person in town has 100 tests, because hey, they’re great planners, and another person in town has no tests because, hey, they’re super busy/couldn’t afford them/got caught unaware, Brown figured there must be a way to encourage a mutual aid society of sorts.
“Let’s reduce our sense of scarcity,” she says. “If people can’t get tests, they’ll just go ahead and do what they’re going to do.” But if they can get tests, transmission of the Omicron variant can be slowed because people who know they have COVID don’t want to infect others, she says, and will be more likely to isolate for the five days recommended by the CDC.
The COVID FB page has over 400 members (update Jan. 17, 2022…membership up over 850). A quick look reflects that the sense of comradeship Brown hoped would come about has, indeed, developed. Members are not a grabby group. One poster mentioned having multiples of a hard-to-find item. Responders asked if she could spare one or two. Another poster supplied time-saving information about reputable supply sources, and those that allow you to fill your shopping cart but don’t mention until point-of-sale that the items are not in stock. And yes, even requests for the ever-elusive rapid PCR tests have been honored.
“It seems like people are getting in the spirit,” Brown says. “But I have no idea what to expect. Will [the page] become overrun by trolls? Will the government send 30 tests to everyone in America for free, so then the FB page is no longer needed?”
In a way, Brown is approaching this as not only an exercise in civics, but as an intellectual pursuit. “I have long-term curiosity about mutual aid,” she says. Also, she notes, “I’m trying to deal with my own anxiety” by helping connect others.
Natick COVID Mutual Aid is a private group that is accepting members. Brown says Natick residents should request to join if they want to if they want to help others, or if they need help themselves.
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