A month after I started sheltering in place, I hear a lot of people advocating for life to get back to normal. Leaders talk about reopening the economy, about getting kids back into school.
People want to “get back to normal.”
Normal just isn’t good enough.
We have to put health ahead of money. All of our health over corporations’ money.
I want us to respect each other enough to do things like maintain a two-metre distance.
I want us to continue to respect people who stock store shelves, clean public spaces and take care of seniors. And I want us to pay them more, so they can afford to live while doing those essential jobs.
I want owners, whether individuals, cities, communities or corporations, to take responsibility for cleaning and disinfecting public spaces, including stores, entrances to hospitals and clinics, public transportation and more.
Most of all, I want us to trust doctors and other scientists, and do what they recommend, not what some self-serving corporate investor or politician in their pocket tell us.
One thing the Covid-19 pandemic shows us is that our own behaviour has made us more vulnerable.
Behaviour Like supporting politicians who cut public health.
Behaviour like scrimping on long-term care.
Like paying people a minimum wage that is not enough to live on. Literally.
Like not providing insurance and other benefits to part-time workers.
An example to illustrate this: personal support workers in seniors’ homes and other long-term care facilities. PSWs are poorly paid, often minimum wage or a little more. The corporations who own and manage the homes will not schedule them for full-time hours—even though, of course, the residents require full-time care. The reason? Employers do not have to pay part-time workers as much per hour, nor do they have to pay for benefits like pensions or health insurance.
As a result, most PSWs have to take more than one part-time job, just to live. Which means that they work in more than one long-term care facility—often more than one in the same day, moving from place to place and encouraging the spread of viruses and other pathogens.
Think about this: that is normal behaviour. Before the pandemic, and continuing today in many places, this continues. This spread of pathogens among the most vulnerable people.
This is a “normal” that has to end.
Similarly, the people who stock the shelves, who put food in bins in grocery stores. They’re usually young people, again working part-time hours for minimum wages and no benefits or health insurance.
All retail workers: poorly paid, part-time jobs. And these are products that we buy, we touch, put on on next to our skin. If these workers are sick, or not trained in proper handling, we’re all at risk.
And then there are the cleaners. The janitors and custodians in stores and hospitals and office buildings. This is a job that literally has the lowest status in our society. The lowest pay. Not a job that can keep a roof over a family’s heads.
We need these people to do their jobs. Our health depends on them. And if they do not receive the support they need, if they get sick, we are all at risk.
People before money
These are examples of putting money before human life. Of boosting corporate profits in two ways: by underpaying staff, and by under-delivering quality of goods and services, and in particular care for ill and infirm people.
The shocking deaths of over 30 residents of a long-term care centre in Dorval, Quebec shows us exactly how vulnerable we are.
This is the “normal” that has made us vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.
This is the normal that has contributed to hundreds of thousands of premature, unnecessary, avoidable deaths.
This is the normal that will make us susceptible to the next pandemic. Because there will be one.
So we cannot be normal. We cannot go back to the way we behaved.
This pandemic shows us that we are all vulnerable. No matter how rich, how powerful, how privileged, how faithful, our parents or or children are vulnerable.
So we have to do things differently.
We have to put humanity ahead of money.