When the students left Washington State University’s Pullman campus for spring break they never came back. It was considered too dangerous. The administration thought if they allowed them to return, the chances of a COVID-19 outbreak would be too great. Every student who could go home did, but some couldn’t. They either never left or came back and sheltered-in-place in our dorms and apartments.
Nonessential employees are working from home. That leaves me, my fellow maintenance mechanics who work for Auxiliary Facility Services, janitors, and people with skills, duties and knowledge that can’t be replaced by technology. It’s like that all over America. Common people are doing the essential tasks that allow humanity to survive.
Sometimes I feel like cannon fodder — those essential but expendable members of the military the generals send to die in droves. We salute the flag in their honor and profess to appreciate their sacrifice. But, as a person on the front lines of the virus, I don’t want that. I don’t want someone standing by my grave saying how I gave my life for my country.
The essential workers I know would gladly stay home. I don’t think we’re driven by egalitarianism any more than anyone else. We’re simply doing what we need to do, what we were sent to do, what we’re paid to do. We’re doing our jobs, paying our bills, and taking care of our families. But, whether we think about it, or not, we are the thin line keeping humanity alive. Without us, food wouldn’t be delivered, things wouldn’t be repaired, water wouldn’t flow and toilets wouldn’t flush.
Classes are online, events are canceled and there are no plans for the future. We make them, but they change so frequently they’re almost useless. How do you plan for something that hasn’t happened since the Spanish Flu in the early 1900s? Or, the Black Death in the mid-1300s?
During the Black Death, a third of Europe’s population died. Now I’m hearing people speak of herd immunity, and to let nature take its course. We must open the economy. We assure ourselves that only the sick will die. Let them die, so we can go on with our lives and not be inconvenienced by their frailty. Men with guns protest shelter-in-place orders in Michigan and the protests are spreading around the country.
Most of those who protest are good people. They want to work to provide for their families. But, some only see this as an attempt to make President Trump look bad. They think the governors who closed businesses and limited gatherings are doing it for political reasons. Maybe they are.
But unlike the Black Death, we know how to combat COVID-19. If we do as these protesters suggest, we are not letting nature take its course, we are murdering the most vulnerable amongst us.
Hitler didn’t start by killing the Jews. He started by killing humans he deemed, “unworthy of life” — severely disabled infants and children, people with epilepsy, the feeble minded and infirmed. The most vulnerable among them.
I’m in the COVID-19 vulnerable group. I’m older, I’m male and have underlying health issues. The protesters have a right to protest. But, I and my fellow essential workers are risking our lives so they can do it. The protesters can wrap themselves in the flag and play “God Bless America.” But, it’s all symbolism over substance to someone working to keep our country from crossing that thin line into inhumanity and mob rule by men with guns.
Mark Ready, 58, lives in Clarkston and works for Auxiliary Facility Services at Washington State University. He considers himself “a common man in a world of intellectuals, and I love it.”