Monday, August 10, 2020

Viruses are Not Punishment

A friend of mine mentioned a comment a coworker made. I share this not to co-opt their story but to note a thing I expect we are all going to face. 
A co-worker commented they were low on leave because they had to quarantine when my friend got sick. 
Now it's possible they meant it the way you refer to lots of things. Like I am out of bread because I ate it all yesterday. 
It is human nature to try to dive in to find errors in what people who got sick did, so that we can feel assured that we would never do the thing that they did and therefore we will be safe.
As someone who has been wearing face coverings everywhere for months, upping the hand washing, limiting people interactions, and turning down offers to visit both family and friends, I get it. I am working hard to do everything I can to keep myself well, and also those I interact with as safe as I can.
But I also recognize it's an imperfect plan. The virus itself does not care how many masks I own, what song I sang while washing my hands, or how often I sanitized my phone. The virus is going to infect when and where it can. I will not get bonus points for the days I didn't leave my apartment. If I get it, I certainly want to be able to provide a good accounting of my movements to the appropriate people. 
But my contracting an infectious virus will mean simply that a virus whose sole purpose is to snack on humans got me. It will not mean I am or was less good than those who are uninfected. And yes, I know that there are folks out there taking less precautions than me, willingly and unwillingly. The virus does not care. It's going to get the people it can. Some of them will be making their first tiny exception. Some won't. The virus does not care. 
And, the reality is this. Crappy leave and sick day policies are neither the fault of the virus or the folks who contracted it and possibly exposed you. In fact, if I had to guess, I would suggest that crappy leave and sick day policies are part of why we're going to see infections continue. Here in DC small businesses are only required to offer two sick days for the year. Many teachers I know get very few sick days, because schools recognize so many holidays. So why would you need more? So we can tell people to skip work if they feel sick, but we aren't backing that up with policy. 
And I have to tell you, my last company mostly believed sick meant you checked your email only four times that day. 
So, all of this is to say, this pandemic is revealing and exacerbating some huge flaws in our society. That is barely the fault of the virus. It is not the fault of those who are sick.