With the demands for social distancing to flatten the coronavirus curve, and the narrative that has been presented from the start of this crisis that things are going to change and that social distancing is here to stay, I think it's important to discuss how this plays out across the class specturm and show how the impact is not evenly felt.
Let's start with the Chief Medical Officers of Health. They might not be anywhere near 1% status, but they are certainly paid more than the average person. Their income is also secure throughout the pandemic. They are not worried about when they will go back to work or if CERB is going to run out or if their small business will survive. They simply do not experience the same level of anxiety that the rest of us do. They tell us to do "social distancing." Don't go out. Stay home. Don't go to work if you're sick? Good luck with that if you're constantly on the edge of not making ends meet and your employer doesn't offer sick pay. There have even been calls to restrict the number of times people can shop legally. Don't attend any events either, whether it's a church function or a curling bonspiel. Toronto decided that with all the crime happening in that city that its police agency had the resources to fine people for not social distancing in parks. Well, how will you buy groceries? Not to worry, they (along with the other people who can work remotely from home) can simply order online and have it delivered. They're not exposing themselves to the virus, they are not risking spreading it around, so problem solved, right?
Not so fast. Somebody has to work to get them what they need, from transporting to the store to working in the store to even going out in delivery. So accepting the premise that the best thing to do is to stay put, these people are at risk of not only contracting the virus, but from a cynical self-interested perspective, prolonging the pandemic. These people don't have the option of waiting it out. Let's talke a closer look at some of these outbreaks. As much as a problem as the outbreaks in the last paragraph were, did they cause any major disruptions? Are there any outbreaks that can be attributed to a basketball game in the park or people taking multiple shopping trips? Have any such outbreaks turned an entire city into a coronavirus hotspot? The answer to those questions is no.
So what is driving this pandemic? I've been speaking recently about the situation in nursing homes. This is not only claiming lives of residents, but of staff as well. It is easily predictable that a respiratory illness would hit the elderly population hard, and unions representing the workers have raised concerns as well. Conditions in meat packing plants are also driving the spread, and it turned the Alberta city of Brooks into a covid hotspot. Hundreds of people infected, three dead. These outbreaks are not happening because people are standing too close together while chatting over morning coffee. These are institutional failures, of companies and organizations not taking adequate steps to protect their workers. Think also about living conditions. If you have little money, you likely are sharing accomodations with people, possibly across many generations. Especially if you are all confined at home and your children aren't going to school or daycare, social distancing is not a thing where you live. Do you think that's not going to spread the coronavirus around? Essentially, there is a near direct relationship between the amount of money you earn and your ability to do social distancing. This right here should dispel the idea that individual actions alone will take us out of this pandemic.
Social distancing will also have the long-term effect of undermining the very social solidarity that is vital to the interests of the working class. When I go to stores, I already see plastic partitions between myself and the staff. As the provinces re-opened up, they told people to only meet with a few select people they know. The subtle message people are receiving is that all the people around me are a threat, even if it is presented as you doing what's necessary to protect others. This is essentially Tribalism 101. What if coronavirus simply sticks around and becomes one of the many diseases we have to deal with, as the World Health Organisation says it might? Of course it will be more prevalent in marginalized communities. Do you think (what's left of) middle-class taxpayers are going to want to fund services for these people? No, they will instead want the government to protect themselves from the disease. This will have a negative impact on public support for progressive ideas that rely on the public commons, from public transit to public housing, to even stores reverting back to single-use plastic bags. So we have to be very careful of this as we move forward.
My final message to the government is this: stop trying to scare people by telling them that visiting their friends and family (or even making new friends) is going to give everybody coronavirus, and go after the systemic failures that are actually dragging out this pandemic for far longer than it has to.