Make a decision: mask or no mask? I’m going to leave the science up to the public health experts and virologists; I’m not interested in making a case for masks (even though I will continue to wear mine until the data shows that I don’t have to). Why am I not interested in making that case? Because everyone is getting unique information. There is no guarantee that I am reading the same news as my neighbor, and doesn’t that fact take away from its legitimacy as news? We lack a shared reality these days, and when we’ve got a killer virus on our hands, that fact is terrifying. But that’s not why I’m writing; that’s fodder for a later article.
The purpose of this article is to ask my fellow Lasallians to make a choice. If you’re going to wear a mask, wear it properly; otherwise, what’s the point? I’m trying to understand. Everything we do and wear sends a message, and the message sent by wearing your mask around your chin is that you don’t, in that moment, care to avoid contracting an airborne virus. I can understand wearing a mask properly and then pulling it down on your chin to eat or drink, or when you’re struggling to communicate and you really need the added clarification provided by seeing your mouth. But why walk around, why teach a class with your mask around your chin? I genuinely don’t understand.
It can’t be a form of “virtue signaling,” to use a buzzer term as of late. It can’t be, because what virtue are you trying to communicate? People who choose not to wear masks may look at those who do as sheep; as people who lack the values of personal liberty that so dutifully reinforce our social, political and economic fabrics. Some people who choose not to wear masks look at those who do as performative and over-reactive. Some people who choose to wear masks (in spite of the university saying we don’t have to) view those who don’t as pig-headed and selfish. Individual liberty and the collective good. Those are the virtues at conflict.
But wearing it around your chin? Pick a side. Do you believe you and the community are safe enough without the added barrier provided by masks, or do you believe we have to keep this up indefinitely? Pick a side, make a decision. Your mask is doing nothing for you on your chin, except for prompting me to write this article.
The stock market rebounds after the temporary plunge as investors assess the economic risk from the new Omicron Variant of COVID-19.
Confirmed cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant have on Friday continued to grow around the world, triggering the discovery as a strain on many countries to try and seal themselves off by imposing travel restrictions, while also sending stocks tumbling and causing oil prices to fall.
That being said, stocks have made a comeback Monday, bouncing back from the steep selloff last Friday where investors feared the Omicron COVID variant would disrupt the global economic rebound. Reports of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus brought back memories of last summer when the fast-spreading Delta variant put a major dent in the recovery of the stock market. This discovery spooked investors on a traditionally quiet day in the market following Thanksgiving, leading to one of the worst days for stocks this year.
The most powerful lift for stocks came from those that have been able to grow strongly almost regardless of the economy’s strength or pandemic’s pall. Gains for five big tech-oriented stocks — Microsoft, Tesla, Apple, Amazon and Nvidia — which alone accounted for more than a third of the S&P 500’s rise. The gains for tech-oriented stocks also helped to drive the Nasdaq composite up a market-leading 1.9 percent.
The S&P 500 rose 1.3 percent to recover more than half of its drop from Friday, which was its worst since February. Treasury bond yields, which fell Friday as investors were gunning for safety, reversed course and rose Monday. In particular, the 10-year U.S. government bond yielded 1.52 percent when the New York Stock Exchange closed.
Travel-related stocks started the day Monday with gains but fell back as more caution filtered into the market and as travel restrictions around the world remained in force. They closed mixed after President Joe Biden said he was not considering a widespread U.S. lockdown. He stated the variant was a cause for concern and “not a cause for panic.” That being said, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines closed slightly lower, while cruise line operators Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Lines actually notched gains.
While the market has steadied itself, uneasiness still hangs over it due to the discovery of the variant, as the virus appears to spread more easily, and countries around the world have put up barriers to travel in hopes of slowing it. Still to be seen is how effective currently available vaccines are for the variant, and how long it may take to develop new Omicron-specific vaccines. It is evident that the Omicron variant is hitting markets less hard than other COVID variants, but just as the market quickly bounced back from its Delta fears, history appears to be repeating itself: investors are taking a breath and sensing a buying opportunity.
My friends and I had a conversation the other day lamenting what we missed and what we missed out on over this past year since none of us were on campus. We talked about dinners at B&G, the recycling situation at the townhouses and the Late Night La Salle events we used to attend. Every week on Wednesdays, I remember the long nights (trapped) in the basement of the Union, editing the Collegian with a buffalo chicken Subway sub beside me while Bianca cloncked around the room in her high heeled boots throwing around ideas for the editorial. Every so often, a professor or student in one of my classes will begin a sentence with “Well, back when we were on campus,” or “So, if we were still on campus, we could” and I remember the “good old days” back when we could talk face-to-face and chat in the hallways before classes and office hours were “just show up” and not “wait for me to email you a Zoom link.”
And then I get all sad about it. I think it’s pretty easy to get into that sort of mindset. I think it’s pretty justified. I can’t lie and say there haven’t been times where I think about everything I did freshman year or the beginning of sophomore year and I’m hit with “wait a second, did I just lose an entire year of college?”
Did I? Did we?
I think the answer is no. But I also think I understand why I (and a whole lot of other people) think that’s not the case.
I don’t need to go on and on about how these aren’t ideal circumstances for anyone, how this has been hard on all of us, how this has certainly affected some people and some situations more than others. We all know it and have heard it before. This article isn’t supposed to be a rehashed sob story or some cheesy “It’s all alright!”
I guess I’ve just been feeling dejected. I think the end of the semester will do that to you in general, but I suppose I should’ve expected it more now, when we can’t pull all-nighters in the Connelly Library or beg the printers in Wister Hall to work because please, please, it’s 8:27 a.m. and my philosophy class is on the third floor and I still have five pages that haven’t made it off of the computer yet.
And so I’m looking for something. I’m not sure what, exactly. Probably a sign, like I usually am, because I’m big on signs. Some sign that this past year and change wasn’t a total wash (I know it wasn’t, somewhere in my real brain — I still learned and experienced a lot of things, both academically and not — but my emotional brain is still wishing I was playing bingo in the Union Ballroom or eating chicken nuggets with my roommates at Treetops or just existing around a community of other people who aren’t my family or my coworkers).
So here are my end of the semester thoughts: I’m searching for something. Maybe it’s guidance, maybe it’s a more specific sense of purpose, maybe it’s some sort of direction or explanation. I’m not sure what it is, exactly; I just know I’m seeking something that I feel like I’m missing.
And in a religion class last night, where the topic was spirituality, religion and those who drift away (and sometimes come back) to organized faiths, Brother Mike posed a question about the intrinsic value of that looking for something, both within and outside of organized religious traditions.
And he said something that I think applies not only to religious searching but to searching for meaning, anywhere and everywhere and especially now:
The administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was paused due to cases of rare blood clots associated with those who received the shot.
On April 20th, Johnson & Johnson announced that the European Medicines Agency’s Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC) reviewed the company’s vaccine and confirmed that the overall benefit-risk profile remains positive.
In recent months, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has been linked to a small number of cases of blood clots in combination with low platelet counts. These cases, though small in number, were enough to draw international concern. The EMA made it clear on Tuesday that there is some validity to these links between Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and blood clots. Moreover, in a press release, the EMA stated “that a warning about unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be added to the product information for COVID-19 Vaccine Janssen.”
The EMA relied on all available evidence, it said, which included eight U.S. reports of serious blood clot cases. As of April 7th, more than 7 million people had received the J&J vaccine in the United States.
The linkage between the vaccine and blood clots is not unique to Johnson & Johnson. In March, more than a dozen European countries halted the use of the AstraZeneca shot after some people who received the vaccine reported experiences of blood clots. 18 of these cases turned out to be fatal, compared to only one case of fatality linked to the Johnson & Johnson shot. The EMA stated that “unusual blood clots with low platelets” should be listed as “very rare side effects” for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
On Friday, April 23rd, vaccine advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet to make recommendations regarding the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. They will be meeting less than two weeks after the CDC and US Food and Drug Administration recommended a pause on the use of the Janssen vaccine. The pause gave experts time to work with doctors regarding the identification and treatment of these rare blood clots.
Moreover, ranking members at the CDC project said that “there will likely be more reports of blood clots connected to the vaccine” (Mascarenhas, CNN). Dr. William Schaffner, a non-voting member of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, stated that he and his colleagues need to understand the demographics of blood clot cases before they can move forward with a decision. Dr. Schaffner said that on Friday, the ACIP could give the all-clear for the vaccine, or it could recommend that the US stop using the vaccine entirely. Dr. Schaffner thinks it is likely that the ACIP will recommend the use continues with warnings about possible adverse side effects. Additionally, Dr. Schaffner says it is wise for high-risk people to avoid the vaccine altogether.
The chair of the ACIP, Dr. Jose Romero, who is also Arkansas’ secretary of health, says that the committee has reviewed enough data at this point to make a responsible decision. Although more data will be presented on Friday, Dr. Romero believes that the committee will likely affirm the vaccine’s legitimacy after estimating the risk-benefit analysis. However, there are currently so few cases of blood clots that it is hard to assess the entire picture of risk. For example, all but one case were in females; some members of the ACIP are concerned that cases among men or older people might arise in the near future. The ACIP would benefit from more data in the form of blood clot cases, but those looking to receive the vaccine might not benefit.
Dr. Romero stated, “I really hope that the American public will look at this pause and look at what we have done during this pause as an indication of how safe the vaccine system and the vaccine pipeline is in this country.”
Shares in AstraZeneca have dropped 8.1 percent in the last six months as the public loses confidence in the company’s COVID-19 vaccine.
We are now over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and millions across the world are beginning to feel a little more at ease as countries ramp up their vaccination efforts. Those in the U.S. are familiar with the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. On Monday, AstraZeneca released results of a large U.S. trial, claiming that the vaccine was shown to be safe and 79 percent effective in preventing symptomatic disease.
Meanwhile, regulators in Denmark, Germany and Norway identified reports of serious or fatal blood clots among young people who had been administered the AstraZeneca vaccine. Although the number of reported cases is small, regulators argue that it is statistically significant; Germany halted the distribution of AstraZeneca’s vaccine and most other countries soon followed suit. New Zealand decided to donate its supply to countries in need, opting for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot instead. South Africa sold its AstraZeneca doses. Confidence in the company’s vaccine is dropping and so is their stock price.
Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, instituted a lockdown that will not be lifted until at least April 18. Germany’s DAX, the blue-chip stock market index comprising the thirty largest actively traded companies on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, was down 0.1 percent as of Tuesday. On top of that, “yields are falling as investors look to bonds for safety,” according to Al Root via Barron’s. The 10-year U.S. treasury yield dropped to 1.63 percent Tuesday.
Moreover, U.S.-listed shares of AstraZeneca dropped two percent in premarket trading; shares in London fell more than one percent. Overall, AstraZeneca shares have dropped 8.1 percent in the last six months, compared to the Zacks Large Cap Pharmaceuticals industry’s gain of 4.8 percent. Although confidence in AstraZeneca’s vaccine is low, some of the company’s other drugs could pick up the slack. Cancer drugs Lynparza, Tagrisso and Imfinzi, according to the Nasdaq analysts, “should keep driving revenues”.
In December 2020, analyst Jim Crumly wrote on The Motley Fool that AstraZeneca was “one of the most attractive buys in the industry at the moment.” A Morgan Stanley analyst predicted that AstraZeneca’s 2021 profit could increase by 30 percent because of their COVID-19 antibody medicine.
But just last week, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, stated that “AstraZeneca has unfortunately underproduced and underdelivered.” If that weren’t enough, on Tuesday, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease reported more concerns about AstraZeneca’s efficacy from its vaccine trial. More specifically, the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) as an independent expert group, “wrote a rather harsh note to [AstraZeneca]… saying that in fact they felt that the data that was in the press release were somewhat outdated and might in fact be misleading a bit,” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday. Despite this, Fauci maintains that AstraZeneca has likely produced “a very good vaccine.”
Five years ago, a week before “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” arrived in theaters, I had taken a job in a local grocery store pushing carts in the evening. It was during the holiday season, a time when grocery stores and other retail businesses hired anyone with a pulse. Pushing carts wasn’t a bad gig overall. When the weather was warm and they were constructing the overpass near my work, I loved watching the sunset in the parking lot and listening to the banging of metal in the night air. The work was simple and pleasant. Since then, I have been a cashier, janitor, seafood rep (that lasted a week) and now a floater (a fancier term for stock boy). Being a floater has never been an easy job. It is not just stocking cans of corn on the shelf with a bunch of teenagers and college students. Retirees, teenagers, other college students, people looking for a second chance, parents even college graduates (a coworker who worked overnight stocking shelves had a degree in Business from Temple) work in retail. It has become a major source of employment for the educated and the uneducated, the skilled and the unskilled alike. Regardless of race or creed, what unites us is our frustration for our work and since the pandemic that frustration has only exasperated.
When the pandemic first hit a year ago, our shelves were quickly depleted the weekend Pennsylvania began to shut down. Our freezers became barren, most if not all of our meats were sold, and, of course, we ran out of toilet paper. By the end of the day Saturday of the first weekend of the pandemic, all we really had were Little Debbie products and some sparkling cider left over from Christmas 2019 (that stuff sells poorly, even in the middle of a pandemic). It is hard to believe it has been a year since COVID-19 first hit — those months of March to maybe June of 2020 feel both distant and recent to me. I tried keeping a log back in April, but many of my notes were mundane. I did not record all that happened at work and when I was not working, I was at home puttering around my house. The supply chain did not collapse, but it was under pressure that had not been seen before in the recent history of the United States.
Pictured above is a frozen food aisle in early April 2020.
It was hard telling people who were desperate for toilet paper that we did not have any. I tried directing them to the nearest small corner store or family-owned chain (in the beginning they maintained a better supply than we did). When people would ask me when we would get more stuff in, I would shrug my shoulders and tell them I did not want to lie to them. Some people would accuse us of hoarding supplies and truth be told, we were not. Some coworkers bought a pack of toilet paper together and divided the rolls amongst themselves. For me, my parents had to drive out to the rural parts of PA to find ground beef and toilet paper. We had plenty of Lysol spray and wipes left over from when I had the flu a month earlier (an odd stroke of luck when I think about it). At the beginning of the pandemic, a coworker gave me a can of Lysol and I felt bad taking it, so I took it back to the shelf and explained that we had plenty of it at home, and it felt like I was hoarding. A woman quickly came and picked it up from me and said thank you.
In normal times, delivery trucks come in the early evening, and the overnight crew comes in around 8 p.m. to break it down. However, during the summer, trucks became infrequent. I remember one time I had to come in early (5 a.m.) to help overnight unload a truck that had gotten there an hour earlier. Sometimes we would not get a truck for a day or so and then multiple loads in one day. It really depended on the luck of the draw that day. One surprising phenomenon was that at one point, just so we had stuff, we got stacks of toilet paper and flour that were originally meant for hotels. But since no one was travelling, it made more sense for us to stock shelves with it. Things are semi-stable now, though we still end up running short on supplies depending on what they are.
On social media and television, we were praised for continuing to come into work. That we were in a way heroes for making sure communities had food and supplies. The media certainly thought we were awesome, and we had some customers thank us for what we were doing. However, I do not think people realize just how bad it got on some days. The fear that your coworker sitting across from you had COVID in the breakroom, to customers who would lose control and act like a child having a tantrum in a toy store. One moment that stands out in my mind was the time me and my manager had to go over to our beer garden because an older white man was screaming at a co-worker and an African American customer. When we asked what was wrong, the old man started screaming at our manager claiming that a Black man was following him around the store (he was not, we checked the cameras). He spent 20 minutes screaming at us, telling us about how his wife left him in the store alone, that he thought we were discriminating against him because he was white and not questioning the Black man, he was accusing of following him, that he had PTSD and that if he did not yell, he would get violent. I honestly thought I was going to have to fight this guy who was twice my size at that moment and that I was going to end up on the news. The guy tired himself out and then proceeded to leave and went about our business.
We who work at stores like Acme, Giant, Walmart and Target have been through Hell this last year. We have gone home crying, scared and exhausted. I have broken down in tears personally three times this past year. Many of us did not choose to continue working during this pandemic because we were brave or had a sense of duty. We did it because we had bills to pay and mouths to feed. Our work was not a breeze to begin with and the pandemic only exacerbated our problems. Grocery stores face issues of sexual harassment, disrespect and abuse from the communities we feed. The latter is still being felt now as we struggle to get vaccines and the latest attempt for a minimum wage increase died with Senator Sinema’s obnoxious thumbs down. It is important to remember that behind that mask, the cashier that sounds like a robot reciting the “thank you for shopping with us,” the women in health and beauty care and the guys stocking the shelves are all human and we are so tired.
As we round the corner on the first year of this pandemic, I can’t help but reflect on where we were 365 days ago. In the first week of March 2020, I went from attending a mock trial event with hundreds of people from across the country to throwing a 20th birthday party for one of my closest friends. I didn’t know it at the time, but the normalcy of handshakes and hugs would soon melt away with no promise of ever returning. Or so I thought.
Fast-forward a year later, and we are certainly still in a pandemic but, with one-tenth of the country’s population vaccinated, this March feels more hopeful than the last. Last March was characterized by persistent changes to our everyday lives, forcing us to reevaluate nearly every facet of 21st-century life. Public health needed to be addressed, along with social justice and our relationships with our loved ones; lesson after lesson, ad nauseam. 2020 taught me that another thing needed to be addressed: my relationship with myself.
I’m sure my fellow college students can relate; ours is a story of constant congregation that quickly turned into sorrowful exile. We are social creatures who were yanked from the most social environment we’ve ever experienced and sentenced to solitude. I quickly became too familiar with the walls of my childhood bedroom, wishing I could spend just one more night with my friends for old time’s sake. I had never been in a situation where I could not physically see anyone lest I risk contracting a deadly virus; none of us had any idea how to proceed. I quickly understood that this was uncharted territory for all of us.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) first characterized the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic.
As the curious person I am, I wanted to chart that territory. I wanted to immerse myself in the idea of being alone so that I could better understand myself and those around me. Sure, loneliness sounds a little scary, but they say explorers are never lost, right? So I dove in.
I first had to understand where I was and how I was feeling. Then, I asked myself if that was where I wanted to be: the obvious answer was no, “Liz, you’d much rather be at a frat party with your roommates than stuck in this existentialist rut.” So, I had to bridge the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be. Not surprisingly at all, I found that this desire to bridge the gap was a common one; this experience was a tale as old as time, as Celine Dion would say.
A man born 125 years before coronavirus came about said that happiness is derivative. This man was named Jiddu Krishnamurti, and he argued that happiness is always a by-product of something else. You think you’ll be happy when you get that promotion. You get promoted, but you’re still not fully satisfied. Now, you think you’ll be happy when you get the girl. You’re in a relationship now, and guess what… you’re still not fully satisfied. There is a search for something permanent, within the self and things beyond the self; but happiness is never permanent.
Krishnamurti offered that instead of happiness, we should begin searching for something else: self-knowledge. There is an idea that you must first recognize what is; “you cannot imagine or have belief in something which you are not.” On top of that, you have to be real with yourself about your circumstances. To understand what is, there must be freedom from the fear of what is. This was really, really hard to put into practice considering, you know, everything going on in the world. It seemed hard, but not impossible.
My thought process went something like, “okay, I get the vibe that he’s saying happiness is tricky to pursue, but if I can understand myself, I think there’s some merit and pleasure in that.” So that’s what I tried to do (and I’m still trying). A global pandemic and all its associated isolation is, admittedly, a really convenient time to, if you’re able, parse through your own self-knowledge.
That isn’t to say a global pandemic isn’t tough; we all dearly miss the way things used to be. But those things aren’t reality anymore. Taking a look around my childhood bedroom, I reminded myself to stay grounded in the present because, as cliché as it sounds, the past and the future were either gone or uncertain. I was alone, and that was a fact; I was alone, and that fact didn’t have to be unfortunate. That is where self-knowledge comes in.
Understanding yourself is a lifelong task, the terms of which, I imagine, are always changing as you grow and evolve. But it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, the following is true: everyone’s potential for self-knowledge exists within them. It cannot be explained by some self-help book or school newspaper article, but it is there. And it is worth exploring.
Over the past two weeks, a slew of sexual misconduct allegations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have come out. The allegations have ranged from inappropriate comments that contributed to an uncomfortable work environment to violations of personal boundaries and inappropriate touching. It should go without saying that these allegations, if found to be true, are contemptible. I have to admit that it is somewhat gratifying to see such a media firestorm around a figure so deserving of one, especially after being so shamelessly fawned over by the press just a year prior. However, I am somewhat dissatisfied that Governor Cuomo seems to be getting off relatively lightly, all things considered. While these allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace are explosive for the Democrat, it seems as if this story has completely overshadowed the much more scandalous story concerning the Governor’s office: New York’s mismanagement of nursing homes during the pandemic and subsequent attempts to cover up the true number of deaths reported from them.
Cuomo’s direction of New York’s response to the coronavirus made the governor very popular with the media last year.
A report released by The New York State Attorney General’s office revealed that the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes had been massively underreported by officials in Cuomo’s office. The report states that as much as 50 percent of COVID-related nursing home deaths were omitted from official tallies of nursing home related deaths released by New York State. Following the release of the report, Cuomo’s aide, Melissa DeLaroma, had reportedly met on a private video conference call with Democrat lawmakers to apologize for the suppression of numbers, citing fears by the Governor’s Office that the enormous amount of deaths would be used against them by then-President Trump to justify an investigation by the Justice Department. These developments are leaving questions about the Governor’s controversial March 25, 2020 New York State Department of Health directive to admit COVID-positive patients into nursing homes, using them as overflow testing and treatment centers. This stunning political cover-up is not only a flagrant abuse of power, but it could also have a serious impact on medical statistics that are crucial for those researching the virus and qualitative analyses of the pandemic. Such a statistical aberration has potential reverberations that travel much further than New York State lines, as this data is used by experts across the country and around the world in the fight against the novel disease.
To be clear, the allegations of workplace impropriety should be taken seriously and, with the sheer volume of alleged victims coming forward in the past month alone (7 at the time of writing), it is definitely a matter that deserves an investigation and the public scorn it has earned Governor Cuomo. However, the media frenzy that has surrounded this story has eclipsed a much larger offense. With all due respect and sympathy to Cuomo’s alleged victims, I think the thousands of lives he has directly or indirectly affected, or maybe even ended, with his handling of nursing homes and the flagrant abuse of power in trying to cover up his administration’s missteps, is a scandal of a much higher magnitude. Yet, it seems as if the Governor and the press would both prefer to address these more salacious accusations of sexual harassment, with Cuomo last addressing criticism of the nursing home scandal almost over a month ago. Cuomo has also been quick to deny the multitude of the allegations of sexual harassment against him; and yet, media coverage surrounding the former seems to have been completely supplanted by the comparatively less severe implications of the latter.
Bearing witness to it all, I have been disgusted by the partisan pandering by the media that has been at play throughout this pandemic. I was incensed, in particular, by the relatively lax scrutiny Governor Cuomo received compared to former President Trump during the throes of lockdown when, in my opinion, both seemed to be equally, if not divergently, incompotent in their responses to the crisis and equally caustic and dismissive to their critics along the way. Over the past year, Republican governors, such as Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, received heaps of criticism over their handling of the pandemic, some of which was completely justified, some overly-critical, in my opinion. Conversely, if you flipped on the news less than a year ago it would have seemed as if Cuomo, the media darling and “America’s Governor,” was beyond reproach. In reality, he was just as, if not more guilty of, mismanagement of this crisis than others. It is unlikely Cuomo will be winning over progressives anytime soon considering the circumstances of his current controversy, and his puzzling statement during a recent press conference that he was not “elected by the politicians, [but] by the people” in a response to a question about the multiple Democratic legislators calling for his resignation reads to me as a pivot towards more populist, Trumpian politics. It remains to be seen what kind of future, if any, lies ahead for Governor Cuomo.
The takeaway of this whole situation should be that we cannot let party lines and partisan rhetoric distract us from abuse of power by officials we politically align ourselves with. I pray that the independent investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by the Governor can proceed unimpeded, and that he will resign if these allegations are found to be true, but I also hope that he is forced to answer for his administration’s missteps at the onset of the pandemic and their reckless dereliction of duty in the tabulation of COVID-related nursing home deaths.
Fair warning: this article isn’t about smoking or grocery stores, at least not really. It’s about the rules and requirements that businesses have in place, and why being asked to wear a mask in certain places shouldn’t be a big issue.
For those of you who like charts and statistics, this site tracks, among other things, what percentage of the country’s population says they always wear a mask in public; here is the specific page for the state of Pennsylvania. In Delaware, where I am currently living and working, the last updated numbers show that a little over 80% of the people in the state say they always wear a mask in public. In the restaurant where I work, the vast majority of customers come in with their masks on or, if they forget, a simple “do you have a mask you can wear while you’re inside?” has them immediately scrambling in their pockets or purses to find their masks and put them on. When I’m working at the register up front, it’s my responsibility to make sure people are following the rules when they come in, and most customers are totally fine with it. A few months ago a man grumbled “are you serious? This is America” before reluctantly putting his mask on after I reminded him, but, for the most part, people are completely on top of the requirements.
And then here comes Paula (not her real name, of course, although I doubt anyone would be able to find her anyway). Paula calls and orders some food for takeout and I tell her it’ll be ready in about ten minutes. When she arrives, she’s not wearing her mask. We have signs on the windows but people forget. “Good morning,” I say, “do you have a mask you can wear while you’re in here?”
Paula flatly says “no.” Before I can say anything else, she launches into “it’s against the Constitution, so I’m not going to wear one. I don’t want to live in a communist country.”
I’ll be on record here and now saying I don’t particularly want to live in a communist country, either. But I don’t think asking someone to wear a mask while within a business that requires it is communism. The restaurant I work at didn’t invent these rules, but we have to follow them if we want to stay open. 99 percent of people understand this.
Back to Paula. She’s shoving her money at me and grabbing the plastic bag of her food off the front desk. “We appreciate you coming in but you have to wear a mask,” I say, probably a little meekly, because I was kind of rattled at the communism comment, “we have to follow these rules or we could get in trouble.”
“It’s not real, sweetheart,” she says, in the kind of tone that one might use to correct someone who said the moon is made of cheese, “wake up.”
And then she’s gone.
The whole interaction lasted barely a minute and the front desk is far over six feet away from any of the tables, so I doubt any customers even heard the conversation. But for the rest of the morning I was thinking about what else I should have said:
Do you smoke in grocery stores?
If there’s a sign on a store that says “no shoes, no shirt, no service,” do you walk in anyway in your bare feet and then get angry when they tell you to put some shoes on or leave? Or, more likely, do you not even bat an eye, because businesses having some level of requirements on what’s allowed (and not allowed) in their buildings is completely reasonable?
I don’t need to say that small businesses are struggling in this pandemic. We all know it. I also don’t need to say that these rules don’t necessarily come from us — usually a governor tells us what we have to do — but we’re required to follow them and enforce them in order to stay open. By patronizing a particular business, you pretty much agree to follow the rules while you’re on their premises. I don’t want to tell Paula not to come back, but the fact is she’s not allowed in if she refuses to wear her mask. I suppose it’s her right not to wear one, but it’s our responsibility not to let her in if she doesn’t. I, like most people, am looking forward to the day where we don’t have to wear masks anymore. But for the time being, this is the situation we have to deal with.
So, forgive me for the clickbait title for this article, but I want you to think about this mask situation not as ‘communism’ or some sort of infringement on personal freedoms but in this way — how different is it, really, from being told you must wear shoes in a particular store or that you can’t smoke in certain places? For the time being, “no mask, no service” has been added to these commonplace requirements. You’re allowed to spend your money and your time wherever you see fit, but if there’s a rule at a place you want to go to, you have to follow it. If you don’t want to, you can choose to go somewhere else. Small businesses are hurting enough — please don’t make it any more difficult by refusing to follow simple, clearly posted requirements.
And, believe it or not, Paula came back about a week later. She called again one morning, I recognized her name on the caller ID on the phone, and her order was identical to last time’s. I tell her ten minutes, give or take, and I wait at the front desk watching the parking lot for her car.
She pulls up and parks, then sits in her car for what seems like ten more minutes checking something on her phone. She isn’t wearing a mask yet. Okay, fine, she’s still in her car. She opens her door. Still no mask. Crosses the parking lot. Still no mask. I’m ready now — I’m prepared to tell her to go back outside, that she can give me her money out on the sidewalk and I’ll bring her food out to her there, but I can’t let her into the building.
And then, at the very last second, she pulls a mask up from around her neck. She gives me her money and takes her food and that’s that.
I don’t know why she changed her behavior, but I’m glad she did.
We won’t have to wear masks forever. One of my favorite websites at the moment is this one by Bloomberg, which estimates how long it’ll take to vaccinate 75 percent of the country’s population based on the current speed of vaccinations. Last I checked, they’re clocking it at about six months. That’s a while, but it’s certainly not forever.
Someday this will all be over, but until then, I ask you to please support your local small businesses in any way you can — and that includes wearing a mask.
Today, Wednesday, March 10, is my birthday. I have no plans, no desires and, to be honest, there is a part of me that really does not want to celebrate this year at all. After all, this week also marks the one-year anniversary of when the pandemic hit Pennsylvania and the country began to shut down.
This week has made me feel reflective about both my life this past year and the country as a whole and, well, we need change in this country desperately. I am not just talking about making the country pandemic-proof, but about the clashes between protestors and police over the summer as a result of the brutal murders of numerous African American men and women, the economic collapse, the election and then all of it reaching a crescendo with the terrorist attack on the Capitol. 2020 can best be described as a large mirror held up to the American soul and we can no longer deny the existence of its internal demons.
There is a myth that permeates through American society called “American Exceptionalism.” It is the belief that the United States is unique and superior to other nations. Well, as we have seen this past year, this is simply not true. We are not exceptional and are just as likely to collapse as the Romans, the Soviets or any of the numerous Chinese dynasties that lost the Mandate of Heaven. If nothing else, this year has shown us that we are not prepared for the problems of the 21st century and that we run the risk of falling by the wayside. If we do not make changes, then our experiment in the republican government— the first liberal democracy — will perish.
In short, we need a reformation. What do I mean by a reformation? I mean that we need to start preparing our citizenry, institutions and infrastructure for the potential crises of the 21st century and beyond. We cannot just have a memory hole of this past year and all the crap we endured; we need to look at it and remember it. We need to study 2020 and all that led up to it. We also need to reconcile our history of racism and oppression and begin to bridge the gap between our ideals of equality under the law and opportunity and the reality that we do not live in a meritocracy. All this of course would take a long time to implement and will span three or four presidential terms but this work must be done. What sectors of our society do I believe need reform? Well, there are three in particular: democracy, labor and education.
We are holding onto old institutions and policies that prevent low-income and people of color from voting or being fully engaged in the democratic process. We also have a two-party system that elects leaders who seem more focused on winning reelection or auditioning for their next gig once they leave office than they are at governing or legislating. Ideas such as abolishing the electoral college, rank choice voting and laws to prevent gerrymandering are some of the lofty ideas floating around that will help improve the health of our republican government. These changes will require a lot of grassroots movement and activism from the ground up before they can be implemented. If achieved, however, we will see more pragmatic candidates emerge, more participation and more competitive districts.
Regarding labor, as an essential worker in a grocery store this past year, I have seen firsthand what the workers who have kept the supply chain stable have to go through and the horrors of corporate culture that is incredibly hierarchical and does not allow for a true voice to the people who kept this country afloat. Likewise, we are facing a huge labor shortage in trade skills across the country that if not corrected soon will spell disaster to our country’s infrastructure and economy. Therefore, we need to raise the federal minimum wage and implement a Universal Basic Income while also promoting unions and workplace democracy (allowing employees to have a say in the decision-making process of their work). This will give workers the ability to leave a company if they feel the workplace conditions are too toxic to continue.
Regarding education, universities are facing huge budget crunches resulting in part due to lack of funding from state legislatures and now lack of enrollment, as potential students are choosing to hold off on going to college because of the pandemic. Since universities are one of the United States’ more important sectors, the idea of universities closing or shrinking to where they only offer a small number of programs is incredibly problematic because it would mean the destruction of one of the few sectors of American society that is appealing to the outside world. It will also cause our workforce to become undereducated and therefore leave the United States at a competitive disadvantage to other nations. Encouraging education and making it more affordable to go to school and study while also properly investing in our universities will go hand-in-hand with preparing our workforce for the battles of the 21st century. A well-educated society is a productive and functional society.
During the pandemic, I have had the honor of learning history from one of the best scholars in the United States, Dr. Carly Goodman. In her classes, Dr. Goodman would often explain to us that one reason to study history was to inspire us to imagine a better world than the one we have now, that society is not a static force incapable of change, but a malleable thing that can be altered because we will it to. This idea is, in fact, my reason for studying history. I have always been fascinated with reformers and those who looked at their times and thought about possible solutions. I do not know about the rest of you, but I personally do not want to live through another year like 2020. I have an idea on what the world could look like post-pandemic, and if I had to take a guess, you do too. So, feel free to send your ideas to the Collegian. Maybe we can build a better America, and world, together.