The other evening, in his news conference, President Obama offered the most obvious, most logical of recommendations: “If you are sick, stay home. If your child is sick, keep them [sic] home.”
He was referring, of course, to the current H1N1 swine flu situation. We can pooh-pooh the peril, and I know many who have. After all, we’ve faced the Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario too many times not to become at least somewhat suspicious of even this current call to alarm. The thing is, few are yet alive who recall the last great pandemic, the one in 1918 – 1919 that was the proximate cause of anywhere from 20 million to 40 million deaths worldwide. While not panicking, we ignore this peril not only at our own potentially great risk, but to everyone in our family and all with whom we might come into contact.
It’s a moral and an immediate dilemma.
But how can you ask a person who is working a low-wage job, with zero healthcare benefits, and without the least job security to make that Sophie’s Choice? Yes, they’d like to stay home, to seek the medical attention every advisory suggests, to care for themselves and/or their ailing family members, and to not risk spreading contagion to you and to me. I’d like them to stay home, indoors, and as far from me as they can manage, if they’re ill with something I don’t want and with which they can infect me.
But how? Without the threat of this viral pandemic the country has been shedding jobs at the rate of 630,000 every month for the past year and a half. An employer advertises an $8.00 per hour job opening and 4,000 applicants line up, just for the chance to be hired. The administration has urged employers to “be flexible.” That seems the height of naivety, given what we’ve seen for the past 30 years. “If you’re breathing, you make it into work . . . or we’ll find someone who’s more ‘team oriented.’”
Here’s the net of our national employment policies. At this point, not a one of us knows how serious H1N1 truly might be. That noted, if it’s as serious as CDC says it could be, it could be fatal. That means, if you get sick . . . or if your child falls ill, . . . and you and/or your child die as a consequence, part of the premature passing from this veil will be directly traceable to a most cruel and egregious and myopic social policy that gave such disparate leverage to employers!
The law we need right NOW is one that is an adjunct of the now extant penalty for violation of an order of quarantine: $250,000 and/or up to one year in prison. Any employer who fires an employee who has reported absent in order to care for themselves or a family member, or to watch over a child whose school district has been closed, as response to an epidemic/pandemic threat, should also face a $250,000 and/or one year imprisonment per violation. Additionally, to encourage ill workers to remain as far from others as possible, some form of immediate unemployment compensation, to lift a portion of the burden for wages (and tips) lost to the employee, should be forthcoming from the federal government.
Also needed are municipal codes that regard as truants those children found out in public, who otherwise would be required to be in class, were it not for the ordered school closing. Like, where’s the gain in the school closing order, if the gathered school age population is merely relocated from the classroom to a shopping mall, or a movie theater, or a playground?
Or, no? Hmmm, I wonder on the negative responses when those who have issued them come down with a 102-degree fever, and are retching, and . . . Well, you know the symptoms, the ones that make you feel as though death would provide respite.