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The Importance of Being Non-Essential

Ohhi! It's been a while! I hope this finds you well, healthy, happy, and at least 6 feet from me.

Today I found myself in the midst of typing a lengthy and maybe-slightly-okay-very snarky response to an absolute stranger on the Internet, and stopped myself because I remembered...

THIS! THIS IS WHAT I MADE THIS FOR! *high five, past self*

We're in crisis mode. Medically, economically, sociologically. In my province, and many places around the world, a literal state of emergency. The global mandate is to self isolate. "Stay home; save lives" is a request, if not directive, that every single human has been given by now. I'm not going to get into specific details on COVID-19, statistics, local situations, social distancing, or anything like that. Partially because I am not educated enough to speak properly on any of those subjects, but mostly because you've likely already read all of that. Cool. Nope, I'm just here to rant about one specific facet of this sociological lock down we're in - the notion of "essential services" and how some are struggling with their important role of un-importance.

We've been getting daily requests from our government officials and chief medical officers to practice social distancing, stay home whenever possible, and operate with only essential services. That business as usual was no longer business as usual. This proved to be difficult. We're social beings, there's Spring Break, the Bachelor finale, work, St. Patrick's Day, toilet paper restocking for 13 minutes at Costco - countless reasons to want to be out and about. I get it. The point is, a lot of people chose to disregard advice and carry on with their lives. Every day, the tone of the daily press conferences became more tense and officials clearly became more irritated. It felt as though we were all a bunch of kids who were acting like brats and Mom kept warning us that if we kept it up she'd tell Dad when he got home and then we'd really get in trouble. And so we called her bluff, as brats do, by gathering in person, booking travel, trying on new clothes, going to the mall, generally considering ourselves immune. Today, it was like Dad came home and Mom had indeed ratted us out. New Brunswick was put into a "state of emergency".

The full mandate (for New Brunswick) is available here. The general theme of it and the federal response can be summarized pretty simply:

  1. Stay at home.

  2. Can you work from home? Excellent, yes, do that.

  3. Essential workers who can't stay home because we need you to keep people alive: Thanks for being the real MVP, we'll try to get the rest of the country out of your way.

  4. Do you supply an essential service like food, gas, hardware, dog food, auto repair, wine? K thanks a bunch, be super clean and keep people far apart.

  5. Everyone else....back to the first point, stay home. Only go out for essentials. You've got to eat, we get it. And toilet paper might be back in stock. Otherwise, NOPE.

  6. You can't work but need some dollars, understood. Here's more EI, some extra CCT, GST, deferred mortgages and student loans and taxes - it's not everything, it's not perfect, but it's trying to help remove your blockers for staying home.

I won't bother with why this is important. You already know that. What some appear to be confused about is the definition of "essential" and their role to play as non-essential. To be clear, I'm referring to what I believe to be the vast minority. I know most businesses have closed their doors and people are learning 187 ways to keep themselves busy. My beef is with the few businesses who choose to disregard the mandate itself or toe the line too closely. With the individuals who still maintain that it's not a big deal if they go hang out or go shopping for a while. The small stores selling used goods but won't close because they're the only possible livelihood for their employees so as much as it pains them to remain open, they're really doing it "for the people".

Yes, it's a big deal. No, I don't really think that you're all going to catch the virus or that Fredericton will fall like Kings Landing. At least, I hope not. That's not the point - the goal of this "stay home, save lives" isn't to suddenly squash the coronavirus. It's to flatten the avoid a large and sudden influx of cases and spread it out over a more manageable period of time. The only way to do that is if we all do our part to ensure that we're not inadvertently carting this thing from Devon to New Maryland. The only way to guarantee that is to completely avoid contact. That means no browsing around for a new scented candle. It means you don't need need that new pair of shoes right now and you shouldn't be going anywhere for people to see them anyway. And no, Karen, you don't need to go pick up that second hand sweater that you won on Facebook from the Auction Hut.

We know that there are "essential workers" out and about who don't really have a choice. We are fully aware that there is a great risk of them contracting and even spreading the virus. Just because they are out there, doesn't mean someone else might as well be, too. Here are some examples that I've come across today.

  • When Jane is gassing up before getting drive through takeout on her way to her shift at the grocery store or cleaning the nursing home, it's essential. John went to the same stores because he was bored at home, but he's being a self centered jerk. The gas station attendant and drive through employee don't want to talk to you, John. In this situation, the most important thing you can do is just stay home.

  • A retail store manager stated that she didn't qualify for EI for some personal issues and she needed this paycheque to survive so "sorry not sorry, I'm staying open". She must have been the only employee on earth to have personal circumstances resulting in needing a job...surely no one else can relate to needing money in times of crisis...

  • A business sells second hand clothes and household items over social media that are dropped off, paid for,and picked up at a staffed location. That location is remaining open because they feel they're an essential service to their employees (i.e. paycheque) and that it's okay because people can drop off/takeout. This is a gross misinterpretation of essential service, and deprives employees from taking advantage of the federal support available to them enabling them to stay home. We're talking second hand clothes here, not insulin...we'll survive without you.

There's the obvious matter of potential contagions but more importantly to me is the message that you're sending. If you put yourself above the mandate, even though most other people and establishments are taking the hit and following it, you're telling the world that those rules don't apply to you. Literally...the world. Even worse, you're telling the patrons and watchers who don't know any better that it's okay. If your non-essential store or service is open for business, it's encouraging people to go against advice and leave their home for something that is arguably trivial. And the problem with that - aside from the obvious health risks - is that it invalidates this entire process and prolongs the situation. I'm not even mad that you're putting yourself and your loved ones at risk (well, I am, but that's besides the point). I'm mad because you're telling every other person and business who is making those tough calls to avoid public, close shop, lose income, etc. that you're more important. But here's the thing; you're not. Unless you are one of those front line people that are keeping the life saving things ready and available, you just aren't that important right now. You are non-essential. And that's great. Be bloody grateful that you get to watch this one from the sidelines. You do still have a critical role to play in the success of this whole shit show and that is to stay back, and do your part to keep people out of the way.

Introverts, it is your time to shine because staying home is indeed saving lives!

It was pointed out to me that this will never be read by the people who need to the most, which is absolutely correct. That said, if you know me at all you are aware that I need to rant about something before I can put it aside and move on. For hours now, these examples of entitled self-importance have consumed me and I needed to get it out. If you've made this far in reading, please let me know and I will be sure to buy you a pint when we're able to tip a glass together. If you haven't, well, can't say I blame you but I'm not buying you shit.

Until then, I love you, and please stay the f*** away from me.

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