Stop enabling people to avoid work because of COVID

It's the end of August, and all over the United States, children are heading back to school.  While some parents went to homeschooling during the lockdown and are continuing to educate at home, most are thrilled to see their children return to schools outside the home.  Over the past year and a half, parents were forced to stay at home while their children went to Zoom school, an unmitigated disaster that resulted in far too many children losing a year and a half of their education.  As excited as children are to go back to school, some parents are even more excited to be going back to work.

However, not everybody is embracing the opportunity to get back to normal.  Amanda Rinehart worked in hospitality and was promoted just before the pandemic hit.  Her life was thoroughly disrupted, but, thanks to Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), she was able to stay home and pay her bills.

Now she's worried about the Labor Day cut-off, which will end her benefits, because she doesn't want to go back to work and send her eight-year-old to school.  He's too young for the vaccine, and she's too afraid he'll get COVID to entertain the possibility of letting him socialize with other children.  She believes he's too high-risk for COVID because a couple of years ago he wound up in the hospital with a rhinovirus, so until there is a vaccine he can take, he'll be doing virtual learning.

I sympathize with Amanda.  I really do.  It's pretty scary when your kid has to go to the hospital.  It's even scarier when there are news stories every day of the horrific toll COVID is taking on the world.  It has a survival rate between 98% and 99%, which means some people are going to die of this disease.  Even though most will recover, the media are making the most of those few who don't survive.

Last week, for example, a number of news outlets focused on a teacher who infected half of her class with COVID.  To read the headlines, which is all that most people do, one could be pardoned for thinking most of the children were either dead or fighting for their lives in the hospital.  In fact, some of the students got fevers, headaches, coughs, and sore throats, all of which can happen with the common cold, but no one got seriously ill or had to go to the hospital.

The only reason anyone knew that COVID was involved is that the students were tested after the teacher came up positive, and some of them came up positive as well.  Still, with a little adroit reporting, this incident was turned into another reason for scaremongering, and, once again, people were reminded to be terrified of the big, bad coronavirus.

The result of panicking the population is that a lot of people, like Amanda, don't want to go back to work.  And they have the option not to go back to work because they are getting paid handsomely to stay home.  In addition to regular unemployment benefits, an extra $300 a week has been doled out.

Why should anyone work when he can get all the money he needs while staying home?  A reckoning is coming in September, when the extra benefits are due to be cut off.  At that point, a great many people may find that if they want to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, they will have to return to work.

The problem is that, like Amanda, far too many people have been intimidated by the government and the media into believing that COVID is lurking around every corner, ready to pounce and kill them off if they leave the safety of their homes.

First, they were enabled to remain in that safe space by generous benefits.  Now, though, horrifying news stories enable them to believe that they will die if their benefits are cut off.  It's time to stop all this enabling.  Sending people back to work and children back to school is not a death sentence, and the government and news media should stop acting as though it's not safe for the world to return to normal.

Pandra Selivanov is the author of The Pardon, a story of forgiveness based on the thief on the cross in the Bible.

Image: Child in mask by Kelly Sikkema.  Unsplash license.

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