Aside from my daily walks with Ulysses, yesterday was the first time I left the house in eleven days.
One of my hearing aids stopped working and I had to go downtown to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. My plan was to drop it off in the lobby of the building so they could send it up to the 15th floor – audiology – and they would FedEx it back to me. Anne drove and we brought hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes with us.
Audrey, my audiologist, had told me that they were keeping staffing low and that they had someone who had tested positive in their department.
I didn’t want to go up there.
I entered the Northwestern building by hitting the automatic door opener with my elbow and walked over to the information desk, keeping my distance. The woman working behind the desk explained that there was nobody to take my hearing aid up to the 15th floor and I would have to do it myself. She asked if I wanted a paper mask and I took two, mainly to use as a barrier for the elevator buttons, having no idea if that mattered.
She also told me that Northwestern was not supplying masks to employees like her.
Her job is to greet every visitor to the hospital and hand them a pass.
Nobody was in the elevator either going up or going down. I dropped off my hearing aid and fled the building.
Which got me thinking about who is most vulnerable in this crisis. I was already aware of the huge risks that doctors, nurses and health care workers were taking. They are courageous.
Service sector jobs make up the bulk of this vulnerable population, led by cashiers,waitstaff and care aides. Cashiers alone hold more than 3.5 million jobs, more than registered nurses or school teachers.
And while other workers — including janitors and office clerks — make comparable salaries, they’re less likely to depend on constant direct human contact for their livelihoods, according to O*NET data.
Government data shows workers in this salary tier are also less likely to get the kinds of benefits that would help them weather disruptions in work. Only 51 percent of employees in the bottom quarter of pay nationally say they get paid sick leave; only 1 percent say they have remote-friendly jobs.
I have been told that the COVID19 virus doesn’t care whether you are rich or poor.
But apparently those in charge do.