A couple days ago, Washington state had it’s latest update from Governor Jay Inslee. It didn’t really tell us much we couldn’t already figure out; this is going to take time, we need to be responsible, and healthy, and use a data-based approach to the eventual re-opening of businesses and public spaces. We did learn that specific steps were being taken to allow some types of construction to resume, and a plan was being developed to allow the opening of some businesses. Not a ton of specifics. Inslee only briefly mentioned small business relief and he didn’t talk about the rent.
A few days before said press conference, a bunch of angry people stormed Olympia demanding the “re-opening” of Washington State. Some of this is doubtlessly due to understandable economic insecurity. Washington– and the country– are suffering from jobless rates higher than any time since the Great Depression. The lack of a hard re-open date gives those who profit off conspiracy theories and baseless rumors an opening to do so. Those who capitalize on unrest for profit or political gain have a lot to work with these days.
People are dying, people are going crazy in isolation, people are going broke, businesses are permanently closing, and no one really knows what happens next.
This has allowed far-right charlatans across the country whip up protests against the perceived oppression of staying inside and not getting haircuts.
LETS TAKE A MINUTE TO BREATHE
While you’ll find no shortage of evidence that there are a lot of people who “just want a burger,” the official political argument tends to adopt the typical libertarian/conservative talking points. The government can’t tell me what to do, this is a case of “elites” telling “the people” what they can and cannot do. The basic idea being “America WANTS to get back to work.”
I AM A SERVICE WORKER IN AN INDUSTRY THAT HAS BEEN ORDERED TO CLOSE BY THE STATE. I DO NOT WANT TO GO BACK TO WORK UNTIL IT IS SAFE BOTH FOR MYSELF AND THE PEOPLE I SERVE.
The safety measures being taken are not “worse than the virus.” The virus is worse. I’m not writing this from a place of comfort. Both my bartending gigs are gone, and I had to cancel one class and move another online. As of this writing, I’ve still not received any of the unemployment money I qualified for. The much-vaunted stimulus check that arrived will just barely cover one month of rent. I’ve already been out of work longer than that.
In addition, while some can take comfort in big backyards or are quarantining with roommates or partners, that’s not me. Nor am I someone for whom isolation is “what I do anyway.” I’m an extrovert who lives alone in a studio apartment. I miss my friends, I miss my regulars, I miss seeing people and doing things. I miss the structure that a work week provides, and I miss having a regular income.
But I still would rather hole up in my apartment and watch the same Simpsons episode for the 5,432th time than go back to work prematurely. The states rushing to re-open are being dangerously delusional at best. At worst, they’re explicitly sending the message that they don’t care who dies as long as “the economy” is good. Everyone who cheers decisions to re-open beaches or lift regulations will eat their words should a second wave of COVID-19 hit. That second wave gets more likely the less people distance.
THESE TIMES ARE SCARY AND INCONVENIENT, BUT THEY’LL ONLY GET WORSE IF PEOPLE DON’T TAKE IT SERIOUSLY
I’m not in this alone. While I’m young(ish) and healthy(esque), that doesn’t matter. I could have been exposed without knowing it. I could be an asymptomatic carrier. This is an instance in which individualism fails; a collective effort is necessary to make sure that as few people die as possible. Remembering the stakes is crucial; this is not just about whether or not I am bored, or you are bored, or I’m anxious about money. This is about the fact that I’m not willing to risk someone else’s grandparents for a paycheck. I don’t want to play fast and loose with the lives of my friends and family– or yours.
It’s worth pointing out that while some are doing their damnedest to spin this as a cut and dried right vs left issue– it’s not. It’s responsible versus irresponsible. Many of the governors getting the most credit for their response to COVID-19 are Republicans who value the safety of their constituents over blind worship of the free market.
The worst outcome would be that we get restless, re-open, experience a much stronger second wave and deaths increase exponentially. Even if “exponential deaths” isn’t motivation enough– and it should be– a re-quarantine would be inevitable and possibly even stricter than what we have now. Those protesting quarantine measures are participating in an exercise in self-defeat.
I’ll be happy to get back to work once it’s safe and responsible to do so. Til then, I guess I’ll clean my apartment and watch The Simpsons.
Also published on Medium.