Fears, Urgency, and What Comes Next

I’ve said before that I don’t want my blog to become “all COVID-19, all the time,” but that’s hard to avoid. We’re in the middle of what many experts are calling the worst pandemic since 1918. Avoiding the topic completely isn’t possible.

And right now, I’m really struggling to think about anything except the crisis.

I live in New Jersey, and our area has seen a lot of COVID-19 cases. We’ve been under shelter-at-home orders since March 21st.

Earlier this week, Governor Murphy announced that he’ll allow non-essential retail locations to reopen on Monday, May 18th for curbside transactions.

I work part-time in our town’s library, and I haven’t been to the library since March 7th. (I had a bad cough for over two weeks, and I stayed home out of an abundance of caution.) We’ve been working from home during the shelter-in-place orders because libraries were deemed non-essential. That’s an assessment that I supported wholeheartedly.

With the reopening of retail stores, I think we’ll be expected to return to the library soon. And I think it’s simply too damned soon. And that we’re all unprepared for the new reality.

I am one of the younger people on my library’s staff. (I might even be the youngest staffer, but I’m not sure.) Most of my colleagues are close to or past retirement age. Many of them work at the library part-time for extra income after retiring from other careers.

Many on staff—including me—have one or more health conditions that could put us at greater risk for COVID-19 infections. I am deeply concerned that we will return to work far too soon and become the newest members of our community to fall ill.

I know our director is in discussions with the town to obtain protective gear. And she has asked us for suggestions on how we can implement social distancing protocols at the library while still doing our jobs.

Frankly, I think many of my colleagues should simply not return to their library jobs. I don’t know anything about their finances, so I’m not sure how much they depend on their incomes from this job. But I have a hard time imagining that what they earn there is worth the risk to their health.

Wearing personal protective gear, washing hands, cleaning surfaces, and maintaining social distancing are all strategies to reduce infections. But they cannot eliminate the risks of COVID-19 completely. Nothing can, and I’m well aware of that fact.

But this rush to return to normal strikes me as unhealthy. I think it’s almost pathological. It’s denying how bad the situation is. It’s a desperate attempt to avoid recognizing how flawed our society and its values are. How broken the system is, and how dangerous this illness is. I think rushing back to business as usual is how we’re hiding our fears of our own mortality.

I know a lot of people are out of work because of this crisis. They’ve lost their healthcare, and they’re struggling to pay bills and feed their families.

If I had my way, taxes on high-income households in the U.S. would be much, much higher. And that money would be available to pay employers to keep their employees on the payroll. We would also have a stronger social safety net, like Germany and other countries provide.

Instead, we have this myth about bootstraps and self-made fortunes, which suggests that the rich are good, industrious people, and the poor are lazy and worthless. It’s complete bullshit, and yet it persists.

Back to my immediate fears.

Our director asked for suggestions on social distancing. Libraries in other parts of the country are talking about having a staff member wait outside to ensure that all patrons are wearing appropriate PPE before they enter the library. I think that’s a good idea. However, I worry about implementing it.

Because I’m one of the younger staffers, I’m sure I’m a likely candidate for the job of hanging outside and asking people to mask up. And the idea frightens me.

Our part of New Jersey is about evenly split between Democratic and Republican voters. Our borough council tends to be evenly divided, and the local Republican voters often fly pro-Trump flags and sport pro-Trump bumper stickers.

Because our area has seen so many COVID-19 cases and deaths, some people think our patrons will be likely to understand the need for PPE before coming into the library.

But I’ve encountered patrons who like to pull that “my tax dollars pay your salary, so you have to do what I say” horseshit when I try to enforce a library policy that they dislike.

I fear that a pro-Trump patron—one who thinks this whole crisis is a hoax—will decide that the rules about PPE don’t apply to them because they pay my salary. That sense of entitled taxpayer combined with partisan ignorance could turn into an ugly situation. And I don’t want to be the one dealing with it.

Frankly, I don’t think ANY of my colleagues should have to deal with it. I think our library should stay closed to the public and to staff for a longer period of time.

How long? I don’t have an answer for that. But I feel we should be listening to medical experts, not politicians or businesspeople who worry more about the wealthy few than they do about the general population.

Stay safe!

(Photo by Finn on Unsplash)

One thought on “Fears, Urgency, and What Comes Next

  1. We have much smaller libraries here but what they have done so far is keep the buildings closed but allowed books to be put on hold. Once your books arrive at the library, they are cleaned and put in a four day quarantine. Once they are out of quarantine, the librarians call and you give a time you are going to be there to pick them up and they put them on a cart outside the building in a bag with your name on it. Returned books are cleaned and put in quarantine before being sent back to the library they came from or being re-shelved. So at least people are able to get books, DVDs, etc. but that doesn’t help with people who depended on the library for computer access. Every time I go up to the library I realize how much I miss just browsing through the stacks. Will we ever be able to do that again? Fingers crossed.


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