Personal Hygiene is Public Hygiene

Isn’t it remarkable how the recommendations for what to do if you get sick are basically the same regardless of the cause? Wash your hands. Don’t pick your nose. Cover your mouth (not with your hand) when you cough or sneeze. Clean surfaces. No double dipping. Wash your hands. Stay home. Rest.

The difference with something like SARS-CoV-2 is that, because of its virulence, the population as a whole cannot depend on individuals to wash their hands–or to stay home.

We here in America have a habit of not staying home when we’re sick, for a couple of reasons. One is the obvious: if I don’t go to work, I don’t get paid; if I don’t get paid, I don’t eat. Some people do have paid sick days, though not everybody does, nor does everybody have enough paid sick (or personal or vacation) days to cover being sick more than once. They have no option.

But we’ve also been taught not to take our sick days on Mondays or Fridays because the boss will think that we’re not actually sick. Obviously, we’re goofing off or we drank too much over the weekend. So we go to work. We were taught this in school: attendance is mandatory. Come to school every day unless you have an excuse. Our industrial training has been effective. Long story short, we do not rest: we go out and contaminate the world when we’re sick.

Perhaps after this epidemic runs its course, particularly if it kills enough people, that might change.

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