The Scariest Thing About the Coronavirus

pssst... it's personal economic hardship

The Scariest Thing About the Coronavirus

Day 12 – of COVID-19 affecting me directly.

The humor (is that the right word?) of schools in my county making the decision to close on Friday, March 13th is not lost on me. My daughter’s school was the first in our school system to close, on Thursday, March 12th, in response to a virus scare. The mother-in-law of a teacher was ill, the teacher reported it, and thus the school decided to play it safe and send all the kids home. I was in a meeting at work when the school called me, less than two hours after I dropped my daughter off, to inform me my daughter’s school was now on a soft lock-down, and that more information would follow. The faculty and staff didn’t even see fit to explain to the nervous kids why they were being sent home. It wasn’t until after I picked up my daughter (noticing the Nashville News 2 van in the parking lot), brought her to work with me, and several hours of not focusing on work later that I learned my daughter and her friends were not, in fact, exposed to this scary virus from China I had only first learned about less than two months before. The mother-in-law had been tested and found wanting any coronavirus. The next day, public schools throughout our city and county were closed, quickly followed by private and all child care, toppling dominoes in response to the looming virus shadow. Now, public schools won’t open until May 4th (May the 4th be with us!).

I work at a museum, a public-facing position. My museum has been closed since Saturday, March 14th, which was our free admission day – typically the busiest day of the month for us. After the schools announced their closure, it seemed foolish to allow hundreds of people to gather in an enclosed space. The only other institution in our city to beat us to the punch beside the school system was the Parks and Recreation department, shutting down their indoor pools, recreation centers, group classes, and the other historic site in town.

I am working from home. How does a public-facing museum employee work from home, you wonder? Why, by partnering with the museum’s media and marketing department to put out online content to engage with potential and not-right-now museum visitors. It’s been frustrating and bizarre to coordinate our efforts, but don’t worry. Shit’s getting done. Slowly but surely. Our country’s economy and self-respect is falling apart now, but people will have their museum content, damn it. People need a distraction. Kids need intellectual stimulation. We all need a higher power. For over a week I’ve been grateful for my blessings to be able to still work and get a paycheck, despite the bizarre and chaotic unorthodoxy of it all. My husband’s employer would not possibly shut down in the face of a health crisis. They don’t care about their employees’ health. We’re among the fortunate ones.

My husband works at a factory. A factory that makes car tires, a product all people in the United States use at all times. They announced today – to the press, not their employees – they will be shutting down for 12 days. No other information has been forth coming. In the press release, the company repeated at least three times that they are concerned about the health of their employees, but no mention of compensation measures once. I am still grateful. I will get to spend more time with my beloved spouse. I really do appreciate it. Thanks, my husband’s work.

The anxiety of the unknown is crippling. I really was enjoying myself, until I realized we may have to go without my husband’s paycheck. He makes more than I do. We pay the rent and the majority of the bills with his paycheck. What the hell are we going to do?

The government is doing something. Thank God! What is it? Every person gets like $600? Is that right? Every kid, $500? That means $2200 for us, if I can count. Nice, that’s a little less than a normal month’s salary. That’s every month until the virus is clear? No, just the one time. Oh, and we’ll probably have to pay it back later with our taxes. Will they even give it to us if we already received and spent our tax refund this year? My new king-sized memory foam hybrid mattress and upholstered bed frame is my salvation right now. The government might be able to pry it from my cold dead hands.

Most of my life with my husband has been marked by struggle and poverty. We’ve been lucky to have family to shelter us, or pay a bill or two, when it really counted and we really needed help. Within the past three years, though, we’ve experienced something new and welcome. Independence. We have finally arrived to a place where we feel we have a firm financial footing. Sure, we don’t always make mature financial decisions every day, but we haven’t lived in fear of missing the rent for the month in over two years. We have stayed awake at night, thinking about bills and whether we’ll be all right next month. We both have steady full time jobs now that actually provide us some security. Our kids have security, can depend on us to provide. And now, the night of hearing my husband will be out of work but not knowing if he will be paid, I’m up past midnight writing this.

Granted, now there are six known cases in my county now, within the two week bounds of simply being threatened by a shadow. One is an already sick little boy. My husband’s grandmother has at least two risk factors that make her contracting the virus a frightening prospect indeed. I don’t mock those of us who are truly afraid of the virus’ physical threats. The threat is real. Serious illness will haunt and plague humanity for millennia to come. Viruses and drug-resistant bacteria will be our last real enemy and threat to our survival. However, if you want to protect people, you have to take care of them. If we want a strong country, with a strong economy, after the ordeal is all over, you can’t simply ask people to promise to stay home and give up their paychecks. As of now, my family is still among the lucky. We are still getting paid. But that can change at any time. And there are far more who are far worse off. Employees in businesses who can’t afford to pay employees while they’re shuttered. People have been getting laid off in my town, left and right. At this rate, we will have so many jobless and homeless in the streets, overburdening the welfare and charities that exist. The scariest thing about COVID-19 is the light it provides to show the worse parts of our country’s social mechanisms.

But illumination is usually a blessing.

Meghan Gattignolo
Meghan Gattignolo
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