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An abundance of caution…

Elizabeth Donald
Mar 14 · 4 min read

Let’s see if you can mark off the bingo card with me.

“To our family of customers…“

“We are committed to your safety…”

“We are monitoring the situation…”

“We are increasing the frequency of our cleaning process…”

“We are encouraging employees who are sick to stay home…”

Was there a mass directive to the marketing departments of every retail and restaurant chain to which I have ever given my contact information, so that they can all use the same language to tell us that they’re open, taking COVID-19 seriously, and please please please still give us money?

Tell me how many you’ve gotten. I really couldn’t count mine, because I get way too many emails. But in my throwaway Gmail account that I use for commercial businesses that give me coupons and free stuff, I count 76 such emails in the past five days.

Don’t get me wrong. If you’re a business attempting to stay open in the pandemic, reassuring people that you’re disinfecting the flat surfaces where the virus could lurk for up to three days is probably a good idea. So is the idea that you’re deep cleaning the place after hours, respecting personal distance, and paying attention to the news about the disease.

Here’s the thing: We hoped you were doing this anyway.

We clung to the fiction that you are wiping down counters and disinfecting bathrooms and cleaning the doorknobs on a regular basis even when there isn’t a Snidely Whiplash virus trying to shut down civilization. We want to believe that you occasionally look up from the balance sheets and pay attention to what’s going on in the world, other than noting that St. Patrick’s Day is next week so you can send us a “Feel lucky??” marketing email that will be totally unlike the other 75 green-themed marketing emails we get this weekend.

But then there’s that last one. “We are encouraging our employees who feel sick to stay home.”

Speaking of things we thought you were doing anyway.

Okay, we hoped you were doing anyway.

You know, in that fantasyland where we believe that a capitalist society would recognize that its workers are human beings who occasionally get sick or have a sick kid or parent or who get smacked with an unexpected school closure and have to deal with Life-with-a-capital-L.

And we know that isn’t the case. We eat at a restaurant that insists it has sick time for its employees… as long as they a) get someone to cover their shift, practically impossible on short notice and b) have a doctor’s note to explain themselves, which means instead of staying home and resting, they’re desperately trying to get in at an overbooked doctor’s office or a pharmacy doc-in-a-box that ran out of appointments by 9 a.m. or a wildly expensive urgent care center or ER. And when considering the mass headache of trying to get all that worked out in one day, not to mention the expense of unneeded medical care with or without insurance, they just come in anyway and suffer.

And infect us all.

I noted that Jimmy John’s email added, “Expanded sick leave and pay policy for team members in company-owned restaurants…” etc. I’d like to think that “expanded” meant they already had paid sick leave, as the cynic in me shakes her head. And we wonder why people get sick.

And then there’s Apple, which didn’t send me an email despite the ludicrous number of expensive items I have purchased from them over the years. Instead, there’s a press release, which I only saw because a friend who is an Apple Genius posted it. Apple is closing its retail stores, and keeping all hourly workers on the payroll anyway. Anyone who can work remotely will, and anyone who gets sick gets paid leave, including people who have to care for loved ones or have childcare challenges as schools close.

Disney did the same: even as all parks worldwide close down, cast members will still get paid, they say. They also didn’t send me an email, but it was in the news reports. That’s only partial mitigation, of course: there are the offsite hotels and restaurants and Uber drivers and others who live off the parks, and all of them are in serious jeopardy with the parks shutting down. Disneyland is donating its excess food to the Orange County food banks; I haven’t heard the same from Disney World, though they may just be shifting it to the hotels, which are remaining open.

This is what I want to hear from the corporations with which I do business: If our people get sick, they can stay home and still collect a paycheck. They can take care of sick relatives. They can take care of children suddenly homebound with their schools closed. We will take care of our people, and hope you will keep buying from us so we can stay in business, because we’re all in this together.

I’m glad you’re wiping down the doorknobs. You should have been doing that anyway. But take care of your people, and I’ll know who gets my money when this thing is over.

Elizabeth Donald

Written by

Journalist for more than 20 years, president of St. Louis SPJ, masters candidate/teaching assistant, freelance writer, editor, photographer, and fiction author.

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