Don't know if you've heard the news, but apparently there's some sort of special strain of influenza making the rounds this season. Goes by the innocuous name "H1N1" which sounds more like one of Luke Skywalker's droids than a deadly pandemic. It doesn't exactly convey the sense of fear and dread that the "Black Death" did.
In order to stop the spread of this flu flavor of the month, we're supposed to take the following precautions:
1. Wash and sanitize your hands often
2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hands
3. Cough and/or sneeze into the crook of your elbow (some call this maneuver the "Dracula cough," I think it's more like "prepare for impact")
4. If you do get sick, stay home so you don't infect others
How am I so wise in the ways of flu prevention you ask? Oh I don't know, perhaps because I've relentlessly hammered over the head with messages on it for the last month. You can't turn on a TV or open a newspaper without some health expert scolding you about washing your hands and proper coughing technique. It's even worse at work.
I'm not sure if my employer's behavior is unusual, but they're pretty much in full on flu panic mode. I can't even count how many memos we've received on flu prevention, the latest appearing in my inbox less than an hour ago. There are signs plastered all over the building reminding us how important it is to wash our hands and not come in if we get sick. You can't walk ten feet in our building without coming across a hand sanitizer dispensing station. If they had their way, I think they'd like to pump sanitizing fluid through the sprinkler system and douse us every hour or so just to make sure we're properly disinfected at all times.
This week they handed out laminated cards to attach to our security badges. One side contains "Daily Screening Questions" and asks:
"Do you have any of the following symptoms?"
Fever 100.5 F or above
Runny or Stuffy Nose
Joint & Muscle Aches
Chills & Sweats
It then says:
If YES to 2 or more symptoms, please see other side.
If NO, report to work.
When you flip the card it tells you NOT to come to work, contact your supervisor, and don't come in until you are symptom free for 24 hours.
First of all, that list of symptoms is awfully subjective. On any given day during flu season it's not hard to imagine a lot of people saying that they had two of those symptoms. Those of us with young kids have accumulated sleep debts that rival the US government's fiscal obligations. Am I extremely fatigued today or just normally fatigued? When a fifty-something coworker near me first saw the list he joked, "Great. I'm never coming to work again."
Second, and more importantly, exactly when was it that we became children and the company our Mommy? I understand why businesses are so concerned about H1N1 and appreciate how disruptive it could prove to be. But can't we manage our way through this without being treated as if we're incapable of determining whether we're healthy enough to work on our own? Do we really need laminated cards with DAILY screening questions and constant reminders about washing our hands, coughing in our sleeves, and wearing a jacket when we go outside? Okay, I made that last one up, but the way we appear to be headed I wouldn't be surprised to see it soon.
We're adults. We now know what to do. None of these precautions are rocket science and most of them are common sense practices that we would likely be following anyway. Now, just step back and let us get on with our work. I'm all for an ounce of prevention, but a healthy dose of prudence is also called for.