Listening to a newscaster give a tip of the hat to doctors and nurses and others who work in the health care system on whom we depend so completely during a medical emergency, it was evident to me today, more than ever before, that this is where the highest quality health care starts. I have always believed that people who go into a medical service field deserve full medical coverage as part of their contract. Why would we not want the people who care for us to be in the best possible health all of the time -- not just during an emergency, but every day.
When the state of New York shut things down and told all “non-essential” workers to stay at home, it made me think about the nurses and doctors and support services for hospitals who continue to go to work to take care of everyone else while they have family at home, many of them small children out of daycare or school. But the term “non-essential” has changed with this virus, too. Who is essential today? Not just medical staff, not just safety staff -- firemen, law enforcement, etc., who respond to medical and other emergencies, but ordinary people whose jobs have suddenly become anything but non-essential.
Stock boys, grocery clerks -- those who work at the few places that are still open -- are in demand to keep shelves stocked and to ring up the orders of shoppers. They still come in fairly close contact with customers every day. Restaurant cooks and chefs continue to make food for people who are traveling and can’t prepare their own foods and for others who are unable to do so, and while most wait staff have been laid off because there is no in-house dining, the window workers and phone answerers who take the orders and the “gophers” who deliver the food have suddenly become pretty essential workers. The truck drivers who deliver the goods to the grocery stores and other places cannot work from home. We all rely on those goods being transported.
Many white collar job-holders are working from home, which is possible to a certain extent, but if their kids are home from school, the work environment might not be conducive to the same kind of work they did from an office. While most people today have only limited (or no) savings available to see themselves through an emergency of any kind, our bankers, tellers and investment managers, now sitting in empty offices and quiet bank lobbies, have become pretty essential, as those who do have savings make plans as to how to manage their money at this time. Some financial planners say they’ve never been busier -- pretty essential work to help people figure out how to pay their bills and buy their groceries while they are out of work or while their investments ride out the current rollercoaster.
This coronavirus emergency situation is an eye-opener as to what is really important: health, stability, family. We are experiencing and will continue to experience inconveniences that for many will become serious hardships. We are preparing for worst-case scenarios, but we are hopeful that, with the extraordinary measures being taken, the impact on all of us will be less serious than it might have been, that we will look back on this time as a series of inconveniences and a rehearsal for the next emergency situation, because it is likely that most of us will face worldwide emergencies again.
It is difficult to look farther than a week or two ahead because there are so many uncertainties. We need to operate from concern, from prevention, from common sense, from caution and compliance and unselfishness.
The best-case scenario is that this pandemic will take fewer lives than it could have, that a vaccine will eventually emerge, that successful treatments will be found; that, after this emergency situation is over, we will have learned through first-hand experience about effective ways to deal with pandemics, and that we will come away from this with some major realizations and appreciation for the many essential and “non-essential” workers who are working through these “shelter at home” times.
In the long run, this unprecedented experience might lead us to evaluate how wasteful, inefficient and unappreciative we often are in everyday life. Maybe we’ll discover that limited working from home -- for those who can -- has cost-effective as well as health-related advantages. Maybe distance and online learning options that teachers are being forced into because of the closing of schools will be something that, once in action, can be put into place in other situations, like weather-related school closings or just cost-saving measures.
If we ride this out together, abide by the measures that have been put in place, and eventually return to “life as usual,” I hope it isn’t completely “as usual.” I hope we learn from this -- not just how to deal with medical emergencies, but I hope we learn to be more efficient, more cooperative, more appreciative of family, friends, and essential and “non-essential” people.