Social distancing is a must during this pandemic

Published 8:26 am Wednesday, April 15, 2020

People like to say that the coronavirus is no respecter of race, class, or country, that the disease COVID-19 is mindless and will infect anybody it can.
In theory, that is true. But, in practice, in the real world, this virus behaves like others, screeching like a heat-seeking missile toward the most vulnerable in society. And this happens not because it prefers them, but because they are more exposed, more fragile and more ill.
And, we must dispense with the callous message that the best defense we have against the disease is something that each of us can control: We can all just stay home and keep social distance.
While social distancing has been hailed as a must-do for everyone in American society today, the unfortunate reality is that not everyone has the ability or fortune to stay home for an extended period of time
Construction workers, for instance, cannot simply cease their projects and disregard their jobs due to the pandemic. Blue collar workers, if they have not been fired due to the fiscal pressures of this outbreak, have to keep working to maintain their wages.
The necessity to continue working stems from the fact that many of these workers make hourly wages. They make no money if they are not working. They do not have the privilege of pay if they are not physically on the job.
If you touch people for a living, in elder care or child care, if you cut or fix their hair, if you clean their spaces or cook their food, if you drive their cars or build their houses, you can’t do that from home.
Staying at home is a privilege. Social distancing is a privilege.
Unlike workers whose jobs can be transitioned to online interfaces fairly easily, low-income workers are at a higher risk for termination — if not now, then in the weeks and months ahead. High level employees, who can have their work transitioned online, will, logically speaking, be spared the worst of these lockdown measures. But low-income workers seldom have work that can be moved online.
Smaller shops, such as local retail businesses which often have low-income employees, cannot operate their businesses online and have been effectively stripped of their revenue streams. Those shop owners — and their workers — have to keep going into work if they want to financially survive this outbreak.
But the true privilege is at the individual level. Wealthy people with spacious houses will naturally fair far better during this isolation period than those living with five children in a cramped apartment or trailer. The wealthy also have a greater ability to distance themselves from ill family members than those in more cramped living spaces.
The tools that enable someone to socially distance are all byproducts of irrefutable privilege. The socially distant person must have enough money not to work or a job that allows them to work online (and high-speed internet is also a mark of privilege). They must have enough space to make isolation a realistic thing to do. They must have access to food nearby, the amenities needed for cooking and enough entertainment to keep them sane. These things, too, are a mark of privilege.
Being prepared for a future pandemic is, to the surprise of absolutely no one, a major collective discussion lately. That discussion generally veers toward the importance of doctors, nurses, hospitals and medical supplies. That is all for good reason — those members of society are vital for combating future outbreaks.
But the reform cannot stop there. Future legislation and norms must be geared toward making workers less susceptible in times of panic and more equipped to social distance should it come to this again. After all, all the medical expertise in the world failed to prevent this outbreak and a vaccine is still a long way out.
Those reforms include guaranteeing full wages for low-income workers displaced by any sort of future calamity, guaranteed sick leave, parental leave and assuring high quality medical care for workers at all income levels.
There are also actions we can all take right now. If you have to go to the supermarket or other stores that continue to work their employees, follow guidelines and distance yourself from everyone — especially those working. Do not put them at risk simply because they need to take home money for them and their families.
Before you chastise someone for not socially distancing, realize that not everyone has the privilege to do so. If you cannot social distance, use the resources you can to make it through these times and know that we are with you.
Social distancing has proven to limit the spread of this disease, and it saves lives.

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