WASHINGTON — Americans work much harder than most of their peers in the developed world, a habit that not even a global pandemic could stop. Many knowledge-class professionals who can afford to work from home (service workers rarely enjoy such benefits, or the benefit of paid sick leave) have chosen to do so even when sick with COVID-19. , despite urging against it by corporate leaders and medical professionals. such practices.
“The American mentality is that we just don’t know how to relax and unwind,” a Los Angeles ER doctor he told CNBC.
This week, President Biden became part of the overcoming COVID dilemma that millions of people have experienced over the last two and a half years. Forced to face the unpleasant reality of a positive COVID-19 test on Thursday morning, he found both his professional and personal plans interrupted. He was supposed to go to Pennsylvania that afternoon and then spend the weekend on the beach in Delaware. Instead, he will isolate himself in the White House until at least the middle of next week.
Isolating, yes, but also working, as the White House has made an effort to demonstrate. “Look, the president could be president anywhere, right? No, it doesn’t matter where you are. He has the technology, he has the tools, what he needs, the communications, what he needs to keep doing his job,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. told a briefing Thursday.
For observers who care about the sustainability of America’s workplace culture, that was the wrong message to send, part of what these critics see more broadly as a missed opportunity to rethink political and social priorities. Writing in your May newsletter about the “working through it” phenomenon.Anne Helen Peterson, co-author of a recent book on how the pandemic has changed the American workplace, worried about “people who have internalized a personal or structural work ethic that whispers to them, before and after a positive Covid test. let them rest it is weakness, and the ability to overcome illness is a sign of personal determination and resilience.”
The reality of Biden’s current employment complicates the calculus of work versus rest. In recent months, questions about the president’s age and health have become more insistent. His bout with the coronavirus will likely amplify that narrative, whether it’s fair or not. Although the president is vaccinated and double-boosted, his advanced age — he will turn 80 in November — is a cause for concern for many.
To mitigate that concern, the White House has released photos and videos of Biden working at his desk. “The president has been working from home, as many of us have during this pandemic,” Jean-Pierre said Thursday. “He feels tired, but he is working very hard on behalf of the American people,” he added a few moments later.
White House COVID-19 Response Team Coordinator Ashish Jha, who was also at the briefing, deflected a question about whether Biden should lead by example and simply rest for several days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are not particularly ambiguous when it comes to milder cases of COVID-19, like the one Biden appears to be experiencing, that do not require hospitalization. “Take care of yourself. Rest and stay hydrated,” the guidelines say.
Jha dismissed any concerns about the president’s resiliency, though he admitted that others may need the rest and relaxation that Biden has rejected. “I think people, if they’re feeling sick, they should definitely take some sick time to recover,” he said. “The president feels good and he feels able to continue working.”
Presidents have certainly overcome the disease before. John F. Kennedy suffered from Addison’s disease, a painful adrenal deficiency that ongoing medication needed. Franklin D. Roosevelt largely (if not quite successful) hid from the country his paralysis, caused by poliomyelitis. And in perhaps the most extreme case, a stroke so debilitated Woodrow Wilson that his wife, Edith, effectively assumed the presidency.
But the coronavirus pandemic comes in the midst of the social media age, when the president’s behavior is being intensely scrutinized on Twitter. Perhaps more significantly, the coronavirus is an ailment that the entire world is dealing with. As with his predecessor, Donald Trump, everything Biden does or doesn’t do when it comes to the pandemic sends a message.
Of course, the war in Ukraine, domestic inflation, and any number of political crises, including his own deepening unpopularity, may make it difficult for the president to relax. And because of the symptoms of it: runny nose, fatigue, fever that seems to be gone by Friday morning, based on an update from your personal physician — are mild, he may well have concluded that he can and should continue his presidential duties.
“I think it’s absolutely fine for the president to get over COVID, especially when his symptoms are mild and manageable,” doctor and writer Lucy McBride Yahoo told News in a text message. “I encourage my own patients to get to know their own bodies and rest when they need to. An important part of health is trusting our own instincts.”
But since COVID-19 can cause cognitive symptoms, working while sick could backfire. If you decide to do some work, try to do it on a limited basis. “You may not even be aware of your brain fog,” says Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, recently told the Wall Street Journal.
Then there is the larger question of the message Biden might be sending about how Americans should consider the role of work in their lives, and not just when it comes to the coronavirus. Some may praise him for putting the country’s business before his own health, but in a country where overwork has become a chronic condition, others see that message as misguided.
“While I’m grateful @POTUS is only experiencing mild symptoms of COVID, I wish he didn’t have to appear to be ‘working’ to get through it,” tweeted activist Rev. Wendy Hamilton. “Our cultural link to ‘work’ makes people feel like they can’t take a day off to rest when they’re not feeling well. That’s not healthy”.