Wash Your Hands

Published by Gerald Benjamin on

The well ran dry at my wife Claudie’s family cabin in rural Vermont this past Sunday. That meant we had no showers. No toilet. No dishwashing. 

We drove to the state park in Plymouth to shower. (We paid the admission and hot water charges.) We drew water from the lake to make the toilet work. We bought paper dishes, and used drinking water to clean the pots. That led to extra expenses and inconvenience. It’s also  not great environmentally. But we got by.

Except regarding Dr. Fauci’s directive, a part of his constant refrain for protection against Covid-19: “Wash your hands.” The logo, posted seemingly everywhere, shows two soaping hands under an open tap.

When we opened the tap, nothing came out.

In upstate New York we are rich in water resources. Statewide, 19 of 20 of us are served by public or privately owned water systems. (The rest rely on their own wells.) There are problems, including aging infrastructure, and industrial pollution. And water bills are frequently high enough that some people can’t afford the burden. Early in the pandemic private water supply companies suspended ending service to customers for non-payment of their bills. Public water utilities, with far more customers, voluntarily agreed to cease water shut-offs in March. In June, Governor Cuomo signed a bill providing for a general 180-day moratorium on all utility cut-offs, including water. So most of us can, at least for the moment, wash our hands when we need to, or ought to.

But the pandemic is a worldwide crisis. About two billion people across the globe in 2019 didn’t have access to safe drinking water, indoor plumbing, or adequate waste water treatment. A small fraction of them, but still a number about the size of the population of Suffolk County, about 1.6 million, live in the United States. Most are poor, rural and members of racial or ethnic minority groups, or are indigenous peoples.

What do they think when they’re reminded to wash their hands after each time they come into contact with a frequently touched surface? What do they think when they see that logo … one hand washing another?

 “Whose hands are those? Not mine.”

It’s food – no, it’s water – for thought.


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