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Columnists

You’re Sick: Go Home until You Have No More Symptoms

At the risk of rejoicing prematurely, I think much of the country has experienced over the past few weeks what those of us in Florida, South Dakota, and Texas have been enjoying for over a year now: just about everything is open, and masks are few and far between. The “wear your masks” signs are still posted on storefront doors, but most of the employees inside aren’t wearing them, and only one or two customers are, at most.

The reasons why people are returning to normalcy are varied: some venture out in public because they’re vaccinated, and others think the spread of COVID and the reported deaths from it are greatly exaggerated. Whatever the case, people are out and about again, just in time for summer.

I never quite understood why people have attempted to immortalize COVID, for example, through photographs. I didn’t graduate from any educational institution this year, but if I had, I can’t image a gloomier photo than one in which I’d be clad in a cap, gown, and mask. Sure, I’ve posed with the glorified bandana on my face once or twice, but that’s when I thought the lockdown was really going to be for “15 days to slow the spread.” When I realized that the better part of a year was going to be robbed from us – and counted my blessings that I live in Florida, where the lockdown was barely a gentle nudge – I figured the last thing I’d want to do would be to look back on life 20 years from now and remember 2020-21. What next? Snapshots of tumors that show up on X-rays?

Yet, despite my relentless attempts to get people to shut their traps about all things COVID, there are some takeaways we ought to retain, even for life.

First and foremost, with the same intensity that a Nancy Pelosi-worshipping, Squad-supporting, culture-canceling woke Gen-Z-er would publicly shame a person who dared walk in a public park – let alone indoors – without a mask, we should all take to task those who show up to work, school, or the movie theater coughing and sneezing.

How many times has someone you haven’t seen in a while hugged and kissed you, only to tell you a few seconds later that “I’ve been sick all week!”? How many times have your coworkers gone through boxes of Kleenex, emphasizing what “team players” they are for coming in to work, as if they’re doing you a favor by sharing office space with you and showering your surroundings with contagion?

Because we are a nation of workaholics, we rationalize how ‘essential’ certain workers are, and how they must show up to work. No, they’re really not that essential, at least not if their bosses hire enough backups. Most things can wait. Even President Biden, had he woken up with the sniffles the morning of his summit meeting with Vladimir Putin, could’ve postponed it for a few weeks – it’s not like the sky would fall. Large corporations that profit in the billions have no excuse for not hiring pools of well-trained backup employees to fill in for those who realize as they drink their morning coffee that their throat is sore. They can survive with fewer profits; their top muckety-mucks can live with smaller yachts.

As for small businesses, they can pool their resources with others in the industry, and share employees to wash dishes or flip hamburgers.

When we locked down the planet for COVID, we went from zero to 60 in two seconds flat. Weeks earlier, I went to see Billy Joel in concert. Surely there were people among the several thousands in that indoor arena coughing and sneezing – even Billy himself told us he was sick! And, then, literally overnight, we treated anyone who cleared his throat like a leper and ran for cover.

Moreover, COVID taught many people in the United States and throughout the world to embrace our astronomically dynamic technology and work (and learn) from home. Sure, the knuckle-draggers stuck in the fourteenth century don’t understand that one lunch hour and two hours of commuting time per day to travel from one square box called a kitchen to another one called an office doesn’t necessarily increase productivity. So, teachers, and bosses, if your students and workers are sick, let them stay home. And if they put one over on you by faking their illness, learn to relax and let go. Stop being such control freaks; you can’t win ‘em all.

This is not about COVID. It’s about the next time the world spins itself into a frenzy over some novel virus, and it’s to keep you from being sick for five days from a familiar virus, because the person coughing in the seat behind you at the ballpark three days ago couldn’t imagine not going to the game.

Finally, working parents who fool their kids’ teachers by pumping them up with Tylenol to mask their fevers and sending them off to school, because they have to go to work and don’t have a babysitter for them, need to take a little more responsibility. Trying to masquerade their children’s symptoms, or their own, is like working in an ice cream parlor and double-dipping with a spoon when there are no customers in the store.

I believe we overreacted when we hit the pause button on life a year ago. By the same token, we underreacted all the years beforehand by carelessly turning our indoor spaces into human Petri dishes.

If four employees are suddenly down to three because one’s got a stuffy nose, who wouldn’t rather pick up the slack for a day or two than wind up being out for a week? There are other lessons we can learn from COVID – like getting out more, exercising, making sure we get enough Vitamin D, avoiding processed food, and learning how to wash our hands correctly. But for now, instead of saying “I’m sick, don’t get too close,” how about staying home in the first place?

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