Strangers

There is a Disease Outbreak (Part 3 of Who The Hell Knows)

It’s been a few months since my last update on suggests for not being a jerk during the madness that is COVID-19. Today I want to focus on being in the world as it starts to re-open.

For many people, things didn’t really ever close. And no, I’m not talking about people living in a US state run by someone who thinks the current occupant of the White House is a good leader. I’m talking about essential workers. People in manufacturing jobs, grocery stores, pharmacies. Security for buildings. Transit staff. Healthcare workers. All of these folks have been continuing to go to work so those of us who don’t need to leave our homes could stay at home.

My partner and I have been lucky – both of our jobs sent us to work from home straight away, and neither of us expect to return this calendar year. We were able to set up separate workspaces at home, and were able to get groceries delivered regularly. We only left the house between late March and June to exercise. In July, as things started to open up a bit, I returned to football training (initially VERY physically distant, now physically distant with drills but not during game play). In the past two weeks, I’ve taken public transit twice, and both my partner and I have ventured into grocery stores or the pharmacy.

If you are slowly starting to return to the world, I’d like to offer some suggestions.

1. Unless you have a health issue that prevents you from wearing a face covering, WEAR A FACE COVERING. Some countries require it in the office, some don’t. I’d say everyone should be wearing it whenever they are indoors in a place that isn’t their home, and when they are outside in busy areas. It’s vaguely uncomfortable but honestly, so are bras, and half the population manages to wear them without much fuss. And all of us manage to put some form of clothing on ourselves when we leave the house – just treat it like a shirt. And this face covering needs to be covering your nose and mouth at all times. It’s not doing anything sitting under your chin.

2. Shops have set up (usually) one-way routes so that, especially in spaces that are smaller and have narrow aisles, people can stay physically distant. Follow those routes! If you forget someone on aisle 1 and you’re at aisle 4, just follow the route to the end and to the entrance to start over. It’ll add … maybe five minutes to your day? And keep you from possibly spreading a potentially fatal disease to others because you missed the paprika. It’s an inconvenience, yeah, but so is spending a few weeks in hospital.

3. It is absolutely okay to not want to do things like eat in restaurants, go to the cinema, or hang out in big groups indoors (even if everyone will be masked up and physically separated). You might feel pressure to hop on a flight for a holiday, or go to big party at a pub, but it is totally reasonable if you’re not comfortable doing that yet. In most places, the disease hasn’t gone away. We don’t have a vaccine for it yet. The science is evolving as we learn more. Personally, I’m generally fine with being outside, or making a quick visit to a shop. Last week we even went to a museum (which had a lot of great precautions set up). But I’m not getting on an airplane and going to another country any time soon. I’m not eating in a restaurant. I’m not having friends over indoors unless we establish a bubble together. And I realize that might mean I’m missing out on some things, but I’m okay with that, because not getting this illness — and more importantly, not passing it on to others — is more important to me.

4. Join a union. What? I know! But workplaces are making some … interesting choices. Some are requiring people to return to the office even if their jobs can be performed at home, adding to the numbers of people on public transit. Some are freezing pay or threatening lay-offs. Some may be in genuine trouble, but others might be taking advantage of the situation. Now is as good a time as any to make sure you know your rights. And if your workplace isn’t unionized, and you have some free time, maybe look into what it would take to unionize it!

5. Be kind but firm. Yes, everyone is going through someone, and yes, we could all use a break if we momentarily forget that we’re living in a different world. But you are not being a jerk if you ask someone to take steps to keep you — and themselves — safe. It’s alright to ask someone to move a bit further away, or to pull up their face covering, or not come in for a hug. You’re not being a jerk if you are honest with friends about how their actions might be putting you, or others, at risk.

6. Be kind to your friends and colleagues with kids. Many of them are continuing to deal with lack of child care, and a lot are also still dealing with supervising their virtual learning. That’s absurdly stressful. And if you have kids, be kind to yourself.You’re being asked to do things you shouldn’t have to do.

I have no idea when things will feel better. I’m hoping there will be a vaccine. I’m hoping that, in countries where it wasn’t common before, wearing face coverings when one is ill but needs to go out becomes the norm.I’m hoping that accommodations like virtual learning and working from home, which disabled people have been asking for for years, remain, as we know it can work. I’m hoping we all (especially our leaders) learn from this time and make some much-needed changes.

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