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Marina Gomberg: The pandemic is the worst, but these reactions to it are total keepers

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marina Gomberg.

Almost everything about this pandemic has been absolute rubbish. Like, a heap of dirty diapers on rotten eggs adorned with some radioactive waste kind of garbage.

We’ve now lost 500,000 Americans to COVID-19, leaving so many to grieve. That’s more than a decade of estimated influenza deaths and is more lives lost than in three of our country’s major wars combined.

The economy has suffered, women particularly, women of color horrifically. Indiginous and low-income communities have bore the brunt of strain and sickness, while having access to the fewest accommodations (but what’s new?).

Even racoons would refuse this swill.

And yet, friends, among the amassing detritus, there have been a handful of golden nuggets worth recognizing and working to keep post-pandemic.

Now, maybe it’s just that there’s more light at the end of each day, but I feel like I’m sensing the faintest light at the end of the tunnel. And if we are, in fact, on the downward slope, I want to make sure we acknowledge the changes we made that we maybe shouldn’t unmake.

With the help of some of my pals, I’ve started a list. I welcome your additions via email or comments. Let’s make this more complete.

Why didn’t we know this already?

• As grown adults, we had to relearn how to properly wash our hands. And it took video tutorials and celebrity skits/songs to do it. I feel surprised this was a 21st century lesson for an industrialized nation. Nevertheless, can we agree to ride this sudsy momentum for the foreseeable future?

• Many professionals are able to do their jobs without wearing uncomfortable clothes (or, in some cases, much clothing at all). Blazers, button-ups and slacks don’t actually correlate with productivity. (And, if my friends are any indicator, pantlessness might be advantageous for morale.) So, unless it’s necessary for the job, let’s reevaluate dress codes. (Side note: Not advocating being pantless in offices).

• We have the technology to experience people and events regardless of our locations. Do you have family you love but are unlikely to visit in Branson, Missouri? Have Zoom cocktails with those dears. That performance in Seattle? Stream it with your dog by your side. It might not be as good as live interactions or viewing, but we can access and make accessible more than ever before. And we should! This includes court/legal appearances, parent teacher conferences, work meetings and other necessary gatherings.

• We shouldn’t go to work when we’re sick. If the idea of resting when you’re ill isn’t compelling enough, we’re threats to others in ways we might never imagine when we’re around them while contagious. Work shouldn’t supersede our care for our bodies and the respect of others’ bodies around us.

• We should rethink how much we touch each other. As much as I love a good embrace and a firm handshake with eye contact, I’m noticing how we’ve woven a fair amount of physicality — even with strangers — into our social rituals and not everybody wants it. Plus, it’s germ swapping heaven. So, maybe we reserve that for our closer contacts, seek consent and find new ways to acknowledge the beginnings and ends of interactions.

Safety measure that feel like amenities

• I admit, we were having groceries and food delivered long before the pandemic, but this is more than just a convenience now — it’s increased accessibility and it’s mitigated risk. More than serving the lazy, curbside pick-up and home delivery can serve the less-mobile and higher-risk members of our communities.

• Overcrowding is not just annoying, it’s a hazard. Giving people space on planes, in museums and parks might not allow for maximum profits, but it maximizes safety, comfort and enjoyment. Remember, people can only spend money if they’re alive and have it.

Legit societal shifts

• We benefit from understanding and addressing the unique needs of aging adults and marginalized communities. Pandemic or not, this is that proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats. Let’s continue, as a society (not just certain organizations or people), to prioritize those in greatest need.

• Teachers, medical professionals and frontline/essential workers deserve our generous appreciation always. They teach (and discipline and nurse and counsel) our children, they care for our unwell and they keep society functioning. More celebratory signs and equitable pay, please!

• Significant swaths of society live in poverty all the time. But, if you exist, you deserve a chance to succeed. Stimulus money, or better yet, a universal basic income and a functional minimum wage, should flow consistently to low-income families. Sure, a tiny fraction will use it poorly, but by and large, giving money to poor people is proving an effective way to reduce food insecurity, increase stable housing opportunities and reduce spending on substances like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.

• Childcare and other unpaid family care falls primarily on women, costing us equity in our homes, status at our places of employment and buying power in the marketplace. Seeing the exacerbated results of this due to the pandemic should compel us to address it when times aren’t so dire.

• Essential healthcare should be accessible to everyone regardless of the ability to pay. We have figured out how to COVID test and vaccinate all who want/need it; let’s do that with all necessary medical care. Sick people aren’t profit centers and healthcare is a human right.

We have the need and means to solve really big problems (and even small elastic waistband ones), but we have to be intentional. As Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at mgomberg@sltrib.com.

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