If a Texas business reopens and an employee chooses not to return to work, they become ineligible for unemployment benefits.— Texas Tribune (@TexasTribune) April 28, 2020
But not for obvious reasons:
A waitress who works at Big Daddy’s restaurant in Odessa found herself asking these questions after being called in to help paint and deep clean the restaurant when it reopened for takeout orders. The waitress — who requested anonymity because she fears losing her job — said no social distancing measures were implemented and she felt she was being put at risk.
“It scared me, so I left,” the waitress said. “Then I had to remember that if I do quit, I would have to lose my unemployment. I had to stay in a place I really didn’t want to work at to get unemployment.”
She said she’s now working a few hours a day because she needs the income as a single mother. And with the restaurant planning to reopen Friday, she said she doesn’t have much of a choice about going back to work full time.
“I know things need to start opening, but I don’t really know,” she said. “I’m going to be wary, cautious.”
People with underlying health conditions and those over age 65 face increased risks if they are exposed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on what guidance his office will give to businesses to take into account the safety of high-risk workers.
Part of the problem is that workers who don't return to work when business re-opens lose their unemployment benefits. So the idea that people will stay home and live off the largess of the taxpayer is simply a lie, at least in Texas. No work when you can, no benefits for you. The other part of the problem is getting sick. Of course, part of the problem is being sick and coming to work anyway, which a lot of restaurant (and other) workers do because they don't get sick leave:
Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, told The Texas Tribune that high-risk workers “shouldn’t be forced to work” if their employers aren’t following proper health guidelines. Levy said he doesn’t believe OSHA has the bandwidth to inspect every business if there’s a surge of worker complaints.
The report issued by Abbott’s office about reopening also falls short of providing workers with the resources they need, Levy said.
“It makes me so mad that [the governor’s office] talks about, ‘If workers aren't feeling good, they should stay home,’” Levy said. “That would be a lot easier to do if you had sick-leave benefits, but the state has consistently refused to provide any paid leave at all.”
Davin Hohhertz has been working as a server at Joe’s Crab Shack on the San Antonio Riverwalk for about three years and was furloughed in March. He said all of his $1,200 stimulus money went toward child support, as does a significant chunk of his unemployment payments.
In the meantime, he’s been donating plasma to make ends meet, making $320 this month doing so. Hohhertz said he plans on returning to work as soon as he’s able — but with that comes the fear of exposure.
“There’s a little bit of fear as people come in and eat,” Hohhertz said. “And if there’s someone asymptomatic who’s prepping all the crab dip, that could very easily create a new wave, a new hot spot.”
To paraphrase Auden: "The State of Texas to the infected may say 'Alas,'/But cannot help nor pardon." The other side of the equation is: will customers return?
Establishing additional hospital facilities to meet anticipated needs, 85% approval;
Closing public schools, 83%;
Requiring travelers from other cities and/or states with outbreaks to self-quarantine if they come to Texas, 83%;
Prohibiting the size of gatherings to 10 people or less, 80%;
Requiring Texans to stay at home except for essential activities, 77%;
Restricting in-person religious services of more than 10 people, 74%;
Closing state parks and recreational facilities, 68%;
Suspending the operation of businesses determined to be “nonessential,” 66%;
Postponing the May 2020 runoff elections, 55%;
Prohibiting health care providers from performing abortions, 48%;
Releasing some nonviolent offenders awaiting trial in county jails, 44%.
Abbott's order requires restaurants and malls to confine the people in their buildings to 25% of capacity. How, pray tell, does a shopping mall do that? A small restaurant I can understand. A multi-plex? A shopping mall? What about the open-air mall near my house? How do they limit the number of people there, or in anyone store at any one time? I honestly wonder if it's worth opening the doors if you have to limit the overall number of tickets available for overlapping showings like that. How do you calculate that? And do I trust them? (No, I don't.) I've seen a craft store near my house line up customers outside, and make them wait to come in. They are obviously regulating the numbers in the store. How many businesses will do that, and who will allow it? My grocery store has closed one entrance, but it does nothing to limit the customers inside to "25% of capacity." Who is doing that kind of headcount? And honestly, I think the response to any new outbreak, especially in Harris County where the infection rate is so low they closed a special hospital they built in anticipation of crowded hosptials, will be widespread panic and disaster for those business so anxious to reopen.
I'm tired of being home with almost nowhere to go, but I'm also not going to a restaurant next month, or a movie theater. I've read too much about what this virus does. I'm not about to risk getting it just so Gov. Abbott can appease the crazies in his party:
The governor has to balance real concerns within his party and the state as a whole as he looks to reopen. Ultimately, more people have already been affected by the economic downturn than by COVID-19. It’s not surprising that more voters are concerned about unemployment (75%), the U.S. economy (72%) and the Texas economy (67%) than about the health care system (65%) or the spread of the coronavirus in their community (54%). And when assessing top-level concerns, Republicans are significantly more concerned about economic considerations than the spread of the virus in their communities.
If that picture flips, we're going have worse problems than the economy to reckon with. How does an economy function when a pandemic is raging and so many have no insurance to pay the ICU bills?