Sunday, November 29, 2020

Essential Services and the Pandemic

The recent American Supreme Court ruling allowing mass indoor religious services has prompted this examination of what is essential. As this is being written a vaccine seems on the horizon and people are increasingly Covid fatigued 

Total lockdown is not possible or practical.  Humans need food, access to health care and much more to survive and be happy.  We also need social contact.  If all work were to stop, a lot of things are lost.  Consumers would be deprived of the goods they have taken for granted.  Workers of course would lose income.  Another seldom thought concern is what will the workers do with all that free time (and restricted in many of their favored activities)?  A big concern has to be the circulation of money to all levels of citizens, the rich and more importantly the not rich and poor.

I agree with some of the reasoning of the Supreme Court justices but it boils down to what is essential.  Supposedly we could not survive with out some goods and the supporting services.  Every jurisdiction has some control of how essential are defined and controlled.

No body could argue against food, but some "food" is not really essential, but we are addicted to unhealthy foods    Food is truly essential.  The production to some extent relies on imported labour, some of which is illegal and the same may be said of processing.  For most consumers it is the distribution that is the final link.  Maybe we will come to better appreciate the contributions of our rural cousins.  Consider

Medical services are truly a front line essential service.  We put them at daily risk and too many of us ignore their advice.  They need as much protective equipment as society can provide and should be first in line for the upcoming vaccines.

Is liquor necessary?  I would say that politicians know that is one area that would run up against strong resistance.  Prohibition taught us that.  Likely the majority of legislators like to drink from time to time.  So the problem is if they push too hard people will cut around the barriers and lose respect for the law.  Another concern is that alcohol can be linked to increased domestic violence.

Religious services have always been an important part of life for many people.  They see rules bending towards commercial interests as hypocritical.  Those with religious conviction find comfort in their faith.  While others seek solace in alcohol, pornography, overeating, etc. etc. they gain personal strength from their beliefs and yes, their rituals.  For any version of lockdown to work society needs to co-operation of all.  

Schools are critical to our future, but it turns out they are also important to our current economy  Trump's first pleas brought up a reality.  Workers (especially women) cannot work if their children are not being cared for.  The long term view is a country cannot advance without education.  Online has stepped up, but we are finding it requires a commitment from students and their parents that cannot be taken for granted.  Many households do not have access to online learning and that can lead to more inequality.  Children also need social contact and the lack of it in early ages can have unhealthy repercussions for the future.

My son in New Zealand at one time was asked to come in to class to teach the children of essential workers; a recognition of the value of the babysitting process.  New Zealand did get a much better handle on the pandemic and schooling is almost normal as I write this.  A lesson to the rest of the world as their students will have a relative advantage as a result of an early response to the pandemic.

Libraries are one of my crutches to keep my sanity.  I have read a few e-books, watch television including Netflix, but personally love an even wider selection of entertainment (and education) and can appreciate that for some people that is where many get access to computers and even books, DVDs, etc. The library is both a source of information tools, but also a source of entertainment.   Hours have been restricted, borrowing times extended, masks required, cards photoed for contact info.  Would add that some volunteer work I did helping immigrants practice their English has been cut for the time being.

A lot of commercial activity is stalled.  However computer connections have allowed much to carry on.   This is fortunate for those in a position to carry on, but accentuates the differences for those who are not able to carry on or are forced to curtail their normal way of working. 

We can see and evaluate a wide range of responses.  Earlier and tighter strategies work better.  Trump seemed to feel a stalled economy would be bad for his election prospects, but overlooked his strategies have led to worst consequences and we, the whole world will have a bigger mess to clean up.  It might be dangerous to defer to any authority, but it makes sense to rely on scientific medical advice and more people would likely co-operate.  Politicians whose judgment is critical can either encourage compliance or complicate co-operation.  It is their responsibility to draw a balance between human needs and medical necessities. 

During this time an unusual set of circumstances had a personal connection.  My wife had a very close relationship with a woman friend, Helen who developed cancer in a life threatening manner.  Helen had a daughter, Janet in Florida who was also very concerned and spent time in Canada, undergoing a quarantine.  The cancer was relentless and she could foresee she might miss her family (a daughter, Kristen and son in law Rob) and so arranged for them to come up and go through a quarantine.  One big concern was that meant they would be here for several weeks and Rob had a job.  He was an engineer, but did most of his work already online.  He was able to get access to the necessary specialized equipment to his work from Ontario.  Unfortunately all the efforts and sacrifices of the Floridians and my wife were to no avail and Janet had to prepare for a memorial celebration.  Helen had accumulated a lot of friends in her life and it must have been difficult to include some and not open up for others.  The venue selected could combine indoor and outdoor, required masks and temperature checks at the door  encouraged social distancing to a small number of people and as a sort of visitor page we were directed to a contact page.   My daughter, Heather had also had a close relation with Helen and although she is vulnerable because of MS she attended.  The border crossings were a little more cumbersome than usual, but allowed some critical people to cross over to give comfort to Helen.

The future will be very different.  More of us have become comfortable with online shopping and that requires fewer labourers and entrepreneurs, fewer commuting networks and less brick and mortar infrastructure.  These trends have been in progress, but we can expect an acceleration that will cause significant disruptions for many.   Perhaps these trends will tie in well with our upcoming campaign with climate change.  It is hoped that more people will recognize the value of co-operative and understand that we are truly in this and other global issues together.  Inequality will be a challenge as automation will  result in fewer jobs as we know them.    

An earlier blog dealt with the future offered by automation, both dangers and opportunities.  The pandemic with its hygenic issues and displacement of work/leisure habits will accelerate the matter.  If these issues concern you please read: and get back with your thoughts and we can create a sort of forum.

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