Trash Removal in the Covid Era

We’re staying home more so it would make sense that we would create more trash, 25% more according to an estimate by the trade group, Solid Waste Association of North America. In Alpharetta, Georgia, for example,  one worker there said he used to pick up about 17 or 18 tons of trash a day, now it is 22. In fact some of the bins overflow and despite robotic arms can be hard to pick up upsetting some trash workers who may need to pick up what falls and because of the virus are particularly concerned.  The virus also is behind the fact that offices tend to be emptier than they normally are and those bins are not very full. Somehow the way trash removal is set up it is not usually possible to reshuffle routes and workers. One problem is that some routes may be done by subcontractors which city sanitation departments cannot reschedule in the same way. Another is that in many localities particularly in the East, alleys behind buildings are too narrow for many trucks and specially designed trucks are used to remove trash there.  If these new patterns continue, then changes will have to be made. They will entail shorter days, shorter routes and will then all be  more manageable.  Trash workers say that the upside for them is that people are now beginning to realize that what they do is a hard and dirty job. They suspect that being home more means they are more likely to see the trash trucks, be more aware of trash removal. As a sanitation worker in Georgia put it, “the world would stop if we stopped picking up.” Indeed sanitation workers are like first responders, nurses and doctors and the army of delivery people, those who make our adjustments to the virus that much easier. They ought to be on our list of those we are grateful for.

Mail Carriers and Heat Exposure

It was 90 degrees one day, I waited until it was cooler to walk to the store, and noticed many less people on our street walking their dogs. Most of us avoid heat exposure, something many mail carriers cannot do.  I have a friend who delivers mail in Tucson, Arizona, where the temperature can easily be 115F, and of course when he’s driving, the temperature is at least 10 degrees higher in his vehicle. His route causes him to walk 9.7 miles a day whether it’s hot, or raining, or cold, or blustery, or whatever extremes of temperatures we all usually shun. The Center for Public Integrity recently published an article “Extreme Heat Doesn’t stop the Mail—Even at the Cost of Postal Workers’ Health” which informs us that OSHA the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the Postal Service for placing at risk of illness or even death from heat exposure over 900 workers since 2012. Inspectors observed workers with heat related symptoms such as extreme cramps, vomiting while walking, losing consciousness, shooting pains down their legs and in their chest. During their observation period at least 5 carriers died from heat stroke, heat exhaustion, hyperthermia or heart failure.  From January 2015 to October 2018, 93 postal employees were hospitalized. And then there is the issue with vehicles. In 2017 70% of all vehicles did not have air conditioning and there doesn’t seem to be much progress in making sure that has or will be changed in the near future.  Heat poses many dangers to postal workers and the US Postal Service hasn’t addressed those dangers says the article, has not issued standards, has not changed conditions, has not taken enough measures to protect its workforce.  The USPS is a vital part of how our society functions, and as we realize this in the midst of budget and operational cuts along with other USPS upheavals, it is important for us to stop and recognize how much we owe our mail carriers.

Racism and Public Health

Early in July the city of Memphis unanimously passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. In 1866 Memphis was the site of a massacre where dozens of black people were raped and killed by white terrorists and in 1968 it was where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, thus drawing a line from the past to the present at a time when coronavirus is disproportionately affecting Black residents. Over 50 cities have passed similar resolutions declaring racism a public health crisis, these cities are in urban centers, as well in in rural areas, with various sizes and demographics,  such as a cluster of small towns in Connecticut, and contain surprises such as the Douglas County Board of Health in Nebraska.

In June an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine addressed the health effects of being subjected to racism and discrimination and declared that they can lead to brain disease, “accelerate aging and impede vascular and renal function” thus drawing attention to the stresses and difficulties affecting African Americans and other minority populations. The resolutions are not binding, yet their impetus being inspired by the research of scientific journals nevertheless make them one step on our journey to redress the wrongs of racism.

Advocating for the WHO

Somewhere in my years of study and work experience I realized that there are today problems and tomorrow problems. At the outset let me say yes, the WHO can use reforms. For example, it is too much under the control of the donor countries, and big donor politics can sway it sometimes to suit their purposes. As a result it cannot always do what is best to fulfill its own agenda. But that is a tomorrow problem.

The WHO created in 1948 has 192 member countries and works to serve them all. Its agenda is global and it has been instrumental in eradicating smallpox and just about eradicating polio, which a century ago devastated many young lives and families when it was an epidemic.  Here’s the today problem. The idea proposed by the current administration to withdraw its funding will hurt the organization and its work. In an era where pandemics are likely that is far from wise, because germs and viruses don’t recognize borders, and in future we may need the organization and its resources more than we may presently anticipate. To be fair WHO warned the administration in January of the coming pandemic, and while some say it could have done it sooner, had it been tougher on the country of origin, China, fact is its warnings were ignored. Yes the US is the biggest donor, and China the second biggest. At the same time that the US has threatened to cut off all funds, China has pledged $2 billion. So if the US leaves, the organization will continue and will continue  with China having an even bigger voice. If the administration carries out its threat China will be better off, the US worse off, and a needed global organization weakened and made that much more in need of reform.