Alexander: The Real Reason We Can’t End the Pandemic

Thirst+Drinks+employee%2C+Ashley+VanLeeuwen%2C+working+at+the+Millcreek+location+in+Salt+Lake+City+on+Wednesday%2C+Jan.+19%2C+2022+%28Photo+by+Rachel+Rydalch+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle

Rachel Rydalch

Thirst Drinks employee, Ashley VanLeeuwen, working at the Millcreek location in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022 (Photo by Rachel Rydalch | The Daily Utah Chronicle

By CJ Alexander, Opinion Writer

 

We are starting our third year in the COVID-19 pandemic. For most of us, it’s our third year of choosing between our safety and financial stability.

The CDC encourages working remotely and social distancing to protect ourselves and decrease the spread. But that isn’t an option for everyone. I work at a restaurant — there is no remote option. Instead, I must choose either to protect myself by staying at home and losing out on income or put the health of myself and my family on the line. And if I have to quarantine, it would result in serious financial setbacks and ruin my future goals.

That’s our reality as service workers and the working class during the pandemic. If you’re under a certain income, you’re out of luck. Our employers and leaders need to understand that capitalistic values and healthcare simply do not mix in the pandemic era. The proof is in our current efforts, which aren’t enough in keeping workers afloat.

Unfortunately, our past attempts to administer economic relief for American households were few, inefficient and short-lived. To aid low-income Americans working in the pandemic, we received only three rounds of stimulus checks. To help renters struggling to pay bills, we received undistributed and mishandled rent relief. And for those struggling with unemployment, some received benefits exceeding their states’ minimum wages, highlighting our national issue with minimum wages.

The present COVID-19 situation isn’t faring any better. Now, more people are getting sick as cases continue to rise. The country is averaging 700,000 cases per day, shattering our previous COVID-19 records. The task of finding a COVID-19 test proves much harder than before, forcing some American workers to forgo a test altogether and return to work. Other Americans have no other choice but to go to work sick, as they are short on income and time off.

Despite this horrifying and dramatic increase in COVID-19 severity, it doesn’t look like any new plans are in place to support low-income and working-class Americans. With nearly 60% of low-income households still experiencing serious financial hardships related to the pandemic, our previous attempts at relief failed to sufficiently support the people who needed it most.

Now, our leaders’ and employers’ primary focus is getting Americans back to work with minimal protection and minimal rewards – in hopes of keeping the economy alive. While I appreciate their initiative and sense of urgency in upholding capitalism, it makes me wonder where this urgency was at the start of the pandemic before we lost 840,000 Americans.

Instead of worrying about financial losses from Americans staying home, we should work to ensure American workers have safe working conditions during this pandemic and after. Introduce sufficient COVID-19 safety measures like mandated social distancing and mask-wearing. Provide workers with more PPE against COVID-19. Allow for paid time off to quarantine and recuperate from COVID-19.

Employers and leaders alike should be working together through policy to protect workers not profits. By prioritizing these measures and the health of our workers, we can build a more resilient workforce that can prepare for and withstand future pandemics and national health crises.

Luckily, the year 2021 saw tremendous changes in the American labor movement. Events like strikes, the labor shortage and unionization across the country helped elevate workers’ safety as a priority moving forward. Fellow Daily Utah Chronicle writers Sarah Buening and Maggie Bringhurst captured exactly how the pandemic evolved the American workforce, highlighting the power we hold as the labor supply. As workers, we can and should demand changes, especially when it comes to our safety. We shouldn’t have to choose between health and financial security.

Instead, we should choose to prioritize our rights as workers. We need to wield our power as workers to enact change and create policy solutions to improve our welfare inside and outside of the workplace. Be it through demonstration or through legislation, service workers and the working class deserve protection against the virus, against unsafe working conditions and against financial instability. By upholding our demands and expectations, we prove to our leaders and employers why they shouldn’t take us for granted.

It may be a new year, but it’s still the same pandemic. This virus is something we have to live with until we can eradicate it, and considering the number of cases, I’m guessing that won’t be for a while. Until then, I’m urging those who put capitalistic values first to try putting workers first. This pandemic made it abundantly clear that capitalism and healthcare do not go hand in hand. Our workers are suffering financially and physically from the pandemic and forcing them to choose between staying safe or paying bills is incredibly unfair.

We can’t just flip a switch to create a better healthcare system, nor can we flip a switch to end the pandemic. But we can eliminate the inequity of financial hardships among American workers and promote safety and financial security amid the pandemic. We can secure a better future and livelihood for service workers and the working class, as well as prepare ourselves for future pandemics and public health scares. To move forward and put an end to this pandemic, we need to implement COVID-19 safety measures and aid that work with American workers, not against them. All it takes is the effort of our leaders, our employers, our community and ourselves.

 

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@CamdenAlexande1