Post # 45 - The Lucky Ones Get to Follow Stay At Home Orders
I'm about to turn 65 and the hill leading up to our house gets a little harder to climb every day. I had four coronary stents put in last year, and I should probably go to see a cardiologist again, but that's not happening any time soon.
And yet I'm one of the fortunate ones. Fact is, if we're careful, we'll be safe and we'll survive on our feet. For so many of us when the governor tells us to go home, we can. We can order deliveries of food and medicine; we can put on masks and take walks during the day, telecommute in some cases, and if the paycheck aren't what they were, we can still get by.
But what the pandemic has laid bare so clearly is that whole swaths of this country can't do that. When the governor says people have to do better, what are they supposed to do? There have been a series of illuminating stories about this. Last week, Pro Publica published an investigation of meat packing plants, showing that not only are they staffed by recent immigrants and other working poor, but they work right on top of each other and are ordered to come into work or get fired. Since successive administrations have cut the safety net, workers at that end of the economic ladder in hundreds of industries have no choice but to go in. Yesterday, the Smithfield pork plant in South Dakota shutdown when nearly 300 of its workers tested positive for the virus.
A New York Times story from this morning talks about a struggling college student, living in a space with six others. Social isolating is a joke for him as it is for homeless people huddled together in a temporary shelter. A woman in Washington state shares a four-bedroom shelter with six other homeless people. "All are in quarantine while one awaits the results of a coronavirus test."
So they should do better, how? The article quotes a literary critic at the University of Pennsylvania who "notes that the peril of proximity in the lives of the poor is a theme as old as the works of Charles Dickens. 'All of his novels deal with the question of space as a luxury.'"
To millions of Americans, especially those in minority communities they simply don't have any kind of financial cushion that lets them wait for a stimulus check. And money that will help in the short term, does nothing for their longterm survival. By long term, I mean a month.
So they work where they can, get symptoms, and then wait two weeks for test results — if they can get tested at all. During those two weeks, they infect others living around them, and they in turn spread it around even more.
Then I read about the evangelicals and the gun nuts, screaming about their rights to not socially distance, like spoiled kids whose toys were taken away from them. Many of them have the choices that too many of the sick and dead only wished they had.
When this is over, there has to be serious national discussion about inequality. I hear people who have a personal problem with Bernie Sanders, but the fact is only he and Elizabeth Warren were raising this issue as the national crisis it has been, only now it's killing thousands of people a day.
And if people don't want to hear it; if selfishness is a true national epidemic, then we need to put it this way: the more the virus exists among working people: the people who clean your homes, drive your buses, stock your groceries and deliver your goods the more likely you are to get it yourself.
I keep seeing the message posted in windows that "We're all in this together."
All I can say is when the virus numbers go down, those signs need to stay up.