Words during quarantine-time

Empty Ottawa streets
This is one of those times that clarifies the word surreal. To qualify: I’m neither in quarantine nor isolation. I have no symptoms. I have not been near anyone with symptoms. I have not travelled in over a month. The whole family is healthy and safe. But life is certainly different. Driving to the grocery store for a few essentials (NO hoarding happening at Casa Bury), I saw empty parking lots at the malls. I passed two teenagers walking on the street and could not help thinking “Why aren’t you in school? Oh, right.”
Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash
The grocery store seemed a little bit busy, but not crazy. Nothing was sold out. Nothing that I was looking for, anyway. The shelves for toilet paper and paper towel were almost empty, and the store is limiting sales to two packages per customer. I did not buy any. I had enough for more than two weeks when the crisis began. And what would I need that much toilet paper, anyway?
I heard one reporter yesterday say that, in her experience, the stories of hysteria and social breakdown during disasters and crises are greatly exaggerated. Something like “One guy will steal a TV and there will be 17 news cameras there.”
It seems that my community, at any rate, has not succumbed to the hysteria I see on  television news. I have to say that I have been impressed by the reaction of most political leaders. My provincial premier has said all the right things about the coronavirus, in stark contrast to doing everything wrong for the past two years. Toronto’s mayor is also saying the right things. So are leaders in many other places around the world. Not the U.S. Sorry, American friends, but your President’s response has been far less than adequate. In many cases, his statements have been downright dangerous. Back to civilization. It’s a strange situation. Streets empty. Highways empty. Schools closed. Gyms closed. “Non-essential” stores closed. Work is different now. Life is different. This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no foolin’ around. The day after tomorrow The news is only about coronavirus and covid-19. At first, I was annoyed. Surely, there are other things going on in the world. I found a story about a man with Down syndrome being elected President of his student union at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax.
But then, I realized that reporters are operating under the same limitations as the rest of us: social distancing, isolation, not traveling. Everything is different. I see this as positive: the whole world, it seems, is taking necessary steps to prevent the spread of a deadly virus. Tens of thousands are getting infected, but we are reacting far better than we did to SARS. We are behaving differently than normal. Which makes me wonder: what will be the new normal after covid-19? This crisis shows us what jobs or roles are truly essential, and what we can quite easily live without. For example, we really need the people who stock shelves in grocery stores. Butchers, bakers, cashiers. Everyone in the supply chain for food, pharmaceuticals, health care. We certainly don’t need the equity and commodity arbitrageurs—those who make billions of dollars by speculating and trading on story exchanges or in derivative, abstract things like futures and options. In fact, we may be better off if we got rid of those roles entirely. Direct those people’s skills to something that’s good for everyone, or at least to an activity that does not periodically disrupt everyone else’s life. There are some aspects of life during quarantine that I’d love to see persist after:
  • appreciation and respect for people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder: workers in stores, who ensure that essential products are available; personal support care workers, who care for the sick and frail yet get paid minimum wage or only a little more, and have insecure employment; and many more similar positions.
  • encouragement of working remotely, or from home, routinely. This would also reduce energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, stress, overcrowding and so many more impacts.
  • regular, thorough cleaning of public transit vehicles, commercial airplanes and public spaces
  • greater investment in public health—remember, if you don’t notice it, it’s working
  • wider provision of health care, regardless of the patient’s ability to afford it (are you listening, U.S.A?), because this makes us all healthier.
What about you? What about our response to covid-19 would you like to see continue after the disease fades into the past?

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