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Sunday, November 29, 2020

COVID in Clackamas: Commerce vs. Workers’ Lives?

Despite the calamitous numbers, COVID-19 precaution deniers, like Clackamas County Board of Commissioners Chair-elect Tootie Smith, are still urging folks to defy Gov. Kate Brown’s responsible, two-week freeze on social and other group gatherings statewide.

As of Wednesday, Nov. 25, our county is the 6th highest county in COVID-19 cases per 100,000 rate in Oregon. The percentage of tests returning a positive for infections in Clackamas has increased from 4.3% per test Oct. 25 to 8.3% per test Nov. 15.

That means our rate of positives has nearly doubled in just one month.  More pain, more deaths.

Specifically, let’s look at active cases in our congregate living arrangements like nursing and care homes are as follow in our county, by name, as of Nov 15:

The infections increasing in the workplace are as follows in our county:

The typical transmission route appears to be asymptomatic family members spending indoor time
with other family members, some of whom have one or more vulnerabilities, such as obesity or
respiratory issues. The infection then spreads through the social circle of the asymptomatic family
members, replicating clusters in other family groupings. This is one reason both nursing homes and
workplaces are vulnerable to spread. In these settings, prolonged periods of contact in a
multigenerational environment are the norm.

Medical Deniers thumb their noses at the professional healthcare community when data on
transmission recognizes the importance of intergenerational household infection clusters. The Deniers
frequently make the statement that the cure is worse than the disease. They claim that harming the
economy is worse than allowing hundreds of thousands to die. The obvious fallacy of this argument is
that it assumes that production of wealth can continue without interruption, COVID or not. 

Yet the rapidly increasing number of infections at our county workplaces tells us this is glib hogwash….
unless one cavalierly assumes workers’ safety doesn’t matter. In that case, the onus is on workers, who
are forced to ask themselves: Do I risk infection by going to work so I can pay for housing, or do I risk
putting my family on the street if I stay home?  

As long as workers have little value (that is, as long as they continue to work despite the risk of infection), then keeping the economy open makes cold, economic sense. In fact, for some, profits have never been higher. A recent report from the Brookings Institute documents that few multinational corporations are sharing their newly found COVID-19 profits with their workers in any way that could be described as proportional.  

Thus, we find ourselves with essential workers who apparently have little economic value while they
create substantial economic wealth for others. We have these same workers being encouraged by
people like Tootie Smith to risk their lives, not only at work, but also by joining superspreader events.

All of which combines to put Tootie in hot water. There is serious talk of recall before she even takes
office! While that’s not legally possible, it does raise the question: Do such irresponsible public
pronouncements by a public figure rise to the level of recall?

Is a removal from office by the voters invoked only when public figures break the law? How about when
they openly defy the governor? After all, that’s what recently prompted Oregon City Mayor Dan
Holladay’s recall by a 2:1 margin. Stay tuned as we explore these various possibilities.

Bottom line: Do we keep the economy humming at the expense of the workers’ lives and safety or
follow the example of some other western governments and pay people to stay home so  COVID can
be quelled and then, and only then, resume full, person-to-person commerce?