What Are We Doing?

If you could just ignore that positive COVID test and come into work tomorrow, that’d be great.

Corporate America is pretty much turning into Lundberg as far as how it is dealing with COVID. For those unfamiliar, Lundberg is the smarmy, passive-aggressive boss from the excellent 1999 workplace satire, “Office Space,” and is pictured above.

Lundberg’s most memorable character trait was sneakily making his employees work weekends and not telling them until the end of the day Friday.

Fast-forward to the present day and now it seems management has had it with your COVID concerns and is going to need you to come in even if you’re sick. For example, at Red Lobster you may get some COVID from your server along with those cheddar biscuits:

Full disclosure: Not a fan of Red Lobster, mainly because I grew up an hour north of Baltimore/Chesapeake Bay and I could get much better seafood elsewhere. And everything is too salty there, not to mention if you get any fried seafood, it all tastes like KFC Extra Crispy.

That said, this is completely insane and irresponsible to the fans of Red Lobster. Also, as Legum points out in that Twitter thread, his reporting found that the ol’ myth that if retail corporations provided paid sick leave they would immediately go under is pretty much, well, an ol’ myth.

So much for all that “essential workers are our lifeblood” propaganda we saw in the spring of 2020. Now we have the employee version of how the Red Army used to have special soldiers to shoot any Soviet troop who was retreating in WWII (look up “barrier troops for more).

Teachers are increasingly being told that they, too, are virus fodder. A good example of this is the teacher’s union battles with Professional Awful Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is leading the charge against Chicago Public School teachers who want to avoid dying in a pandemic. This excellent thread by Guardian reporter Julia Carrie Wong raises a good question – how is forcing teachers to teach in person going to work if lots of them get sick?: https://twitter.com/juliacarriew/status/1478531158023491584

Indeed, it’s not the teacher’s unions creating the problem, it’s the VIRUS that’s creating the problem. Meanwhile, Georgia has decided that if you got the COVID and you aren’t showing symptoms, get back to work, teachers. “But they are requiring masks for such people” says the moderate reasoned person in my head. “Have you seen how great people are wearing them?” I reply.

As has always been the case, the virus also doesn’t cooperate with such policies. The battle cry for the REOPEN SCHOOLS OR ELSE crowd has been “children aren’t at risk” but COVID being COVID, it apparently isn’t listening to the Nate Silvers and Matt Yglesiases of the world.

So, why are we doing this? Money’s the obvious reason. Probably some convenience issues there, people want their Endless Shrimp. With schools, my experience working at a weather forecast company taught me something about people that’s not great. My dealing with angry parents who were mad at the forecasters because school was closed, even with the snow forecast verifying, made me realize there are more parents than you think who are cool with putting their kids at risk if it means they aren’t inconvenienced.

(If this enrages you, dear reader, I imagine that’s because I struck a nerve you didn’t want to be struck).

I also think that some of it is our dear leaders in enterprise, education, and politics are counting on this blowing over eventually (there are still plenty of signs this will happen) and then we forget about it. It’s not an unreasonable expectation. Ron DeSantis was considered the King of the Pandemic this past spring once cases dropped and we got the vaccine, all due to his shrewd policy, which was basically “let ’em die.” That they kept the schools open will be the focus, not how many died or got very sick in the process. All the Smartest Boys and Girls on Substack are itching to write their “COVID really wasn’t that bad” pieces, which they will promote on Twitter as Smart and Reasoned Thinker Thinking.

Meanwhile, it’s not out of the question the US tops 1 million deaths this year. And that will be treated with an impatient sigh, and a snappy “get back to work, you.”

Charlie Pierce said it best last month:

Science is reaching the point at which it’s done all it can. The rest of the fight against the pandemic depends on how much every one of us cares about our fellow human beings. This has been the obvious answer from the start, but it’s also been something at which the country has bridled over the past two years, a reaction that, as nearly as I can tell, is unprecedented in American history. I’m old enough to remember the unequivocal joy with which the Salk vaccine against polio was received. (Kids, of course, were equally overjoyed at the arrival of the Sabin vaccine. No more shots!) My mother had been confined for weeks in an iron lung after contracting polio as a young woman. It left her with a lasting medico-phobia that she transferred to me, thereby making sure polio affected our lives long after the vaccine had eradicated it. But even she insisted that I be immunized as soon as the vaccine became available. She didn’t believe in doctors, but she believed in that vaccine.

I believe we have it in us to be better than we have been. I believe we have it in us to be better than we are. I believe we can rediscover our common humanity if we just look for it. There are all kinds of things we knew and loved once that we’ve forgotten. There are better parts of ourselves that have lain dormant for far too long. Rediscovery can be as exciting as discovery was in the first place.

I hope so too, Charlie, that we rediscover our shared humanity. If not, well, that’s not a good thing, as we’ve seen recently.

The last word goes to Mr. Mellencamp, who says that while this might not be the end of the world, you can see it from here. I miss the good old days when this song just was a wry way of looking at life, not a statement of our time.