If you are seeking to understand how fundamentally our world is changing because of this coronavirus pandemic, you need look no further than the changing relationship of people to their jobs.
Some people — health care workers, first responders, paramedics — are acting with extreme bravery under the most trying circumstances. Many people — grocery store employees, transit workers, others at essential businesses — are pushing forward despite the risks, hoping for the best from social distancing.
Many others are desperate to return to work as the bills pile up.
And some people are too afraid to return to work, even when their employer has received a loan to pay their salaries.
That is a stark reminder that fear is going to be a big part of our national consciousness for a long time, throughout this year and perhaps well into the future.
The refusal of some people to return to their old jobs is a harbinger of more changes in behavior that will be driven by terror of being infected by COVID-19 or bringing the disease into their homes.
Several local business owners told News-Post reporter Erika Riley that some workers who are collecting unemployment have declined to return to work.
Ken Tucker, owner of Tucker Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing, said that some of his employees left on their own accord because they didn’t feel safe. He said he understands that working in people’s homes can be nerve-wracking, especially for those who have immunocompromised family members.
Rick Weldon, chief executive officer of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, explained that Maryland is allowing people who left work because they do not feel safe to file for unemployment.
“And that was never true before, it’s only been true because of COVID-19,” Weldon said.
The fact is that going back to work for most people will mean returning to face-to-face interactions, either with fellow employees or with customers. And a lot of people have concerns about that scenario.
Jennifer Rubin, an opinion writer for the Washington Post, commented a few days ago on the changes we are seeing:
“When I wrote more than a month ago that COVID-19 would fundamentally change virtually all aspects of our lives from sports to politics to schooling, I worried that perhaps I was overstating the prospect of such sweeping transformation. If anything, I now realize that I underestimated the duration — and potentially the permanence — of many changes.”
The workplace, where most people spend the majority of their waking hours, will undoubtedly be among the social institutions that will be most altered.
Working from home has been a solution for many people, and that is likely to continue for a long time, perhaps even after the pandemic wanes. But a lot of jobs just cannot be completed except at the work site. Those folks will need to decide at some point whether or not to return.
Social distancing in the office or factory or retail store can offer some reassurance. But if you or someone in your family have an underlying illness, it might not be a risk you will feel comfortable taking.
We all hope for the discovery of a safe and effective vaccine. But even if one is developed in the 12 to 18 months usually cited by health experts, the United States and the rest of the world would then need to undertake the largest mass immunization program since polio in the 1950s. It will take a long time to get the vaccine to the hundreds of millions of people who will need to take it.
We are just beginning to understand and comprehend the changes that are coming to our world because of this virus. Even when the lockdowns end, for many people the psychological restrictions will remain for a long, long time.