Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

The Big Quit.,

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This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

ImageDaily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.
Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.Credit…The New York Times

At first, everyone tried to make the best of a bad situation: gathering on Zoom, launching projects in the kitchen and cheering on health care workers, and ourselves, with daily quarantine clapping.

Pretty soon, though, we began languishing, and then had moments of existential burnout that left us feeling drained and rudderless. Now, many are calling it quits on aspects of life that seemed indispensable before the pandemic.

Over the last 19 months, an outsized number of Americans have left cities, their marriages and organized religion. Some have recently tried dumping social media. It seems that many see 2021 as a year to finally leave prepandemic lives behind and embrace the idea of a fresh start.

Perhaps the most pronounced example is what economists are calling “The Great Resignation.”

In August, a record 4.3 million Americans left their jobs — the highest number in the two decades the government has been keeping track. Across industries including health care, education, retail, food services and child care, people are saying goodbye to their employers, sometimes even walking out in the middle of a shift.

There are several reasons for the mass resignations. People have lingering fears of getting Covid at the workplace, better unemployment benefits, and savings built up during the pandemic that make it easier for them to turn down jobs they don’t want, or which don’t pay a living wage. For the first time in decades, many workers across the income spectrum have some leverage, and they are using it to demand better pay and superior working conditions.

“It’s like the whole country is in some kind of union renegotiation,” Betsey Stevenson, a University of Michigan economist, recently told The Times. “I don’t know who’s going to win in this bargaining that’s going on right now, but right now it seems like workers have the upper hand.”

The psychology of the pandemic may be playing a role. Surveys suggest that the crisis led many people to rethink their priorities. Behavioral scientists say times of disruption and transition create new opportunities for growth and change.

Staying the course, whether in an unfulfilling job or an unhappy relationship, can also cost you, my colleagues Lindsay Crouse and Kirby Ferguson in Opinion wrote this week.

Despite what many of us were taught in childhood — that quitters are losers — there can be significant penalties to passively remaining in place, particularly in the form of missed opportunities. For example, research has shown that one of the best ways for women to increase their salaries is to quit their job and find a new one.

Thoughtful quitting, Lindsay and Kirby argue, may actually increase your power, as was the case with Simone Biles, the U.S. gymnast who started a global conversation about mental health after withdrawing from the gymnastic finals in the Tokyo Olympics.

“I’m not saying quit everything. Lots of great things require perseverance — our relationships, our health, our careers,” Lindsay said. “But think about it: perseverance shouldn’t be a default, it should be a choice.”


I recently asked readers what they’re leaving behind as we emerge from the pandemic. Thanks to all of you who wrote in.

“I’m trying to leave behind my sense of control. The pandemic taught me that we control very little. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the present, and I’m learning to focus on my very small realm of control, which includes the ways I do and, more importantly, do not honor my commitments to myself and others.” — Reshma Singh, Brooklyn, N.Y.

“When the pandemic first began and my mother ignored my pleas to follow stay-at-home orders and not allow friends over, I realized it was finally time to go to therapy and abandon my toxic relationship with her. I’ve since gained a clearer perspective on the damage she has done throughout my life, and I’m moving forward with a better understanding of myself and the way I expect others to treat me.” — Rachel M., Brooklyn

“I’m giving up the U.S. (and moving to Portugal). It will be a nice change to live in a place among people who value many of the things that I do. The U.S. is sadly no longer that place.” — Mary Anne Casey, Philadelphia

“I’m giving up things that pinch — high heels, bras with bones and small talk. I’ll stick with sneakers, sport bras and smiles.” — Lynn Somerstein, New York, N.Y.

“Gym membership! I bought weights, pay for online classes and can do it on my schedule, not the gym’s inconvenient ones. No fear of getting sick either and the music is not too loud!” — Lisa, Seattle

“The routines of school for my 11- and 17-year-old children returned, including meetings and back to school nights. I realized at these events that I stopped smiling. I didn’t have to anymore, I was wearing a mask. I faced what a people-pleaser I was — especially as a Black parent with two biracial children at an expensive private school. The smiling never helped anyway; the other parents never got past very polite with me. Even at outside events I was just happier with my natural resting face. It’s like a book I used to read to my daughters, “Let’s Be Polite.” Except I do the adult version: I speak politely to those I have business with and then I leave the room.” — Spence, Md.

“I gave up the extra weight I carried around for over 15 years. My husband and I began to focus on eating healthfully and intermittent fasting. Within 18 months, I had lost over 30 pounds. I never want to go back to my pre-Covid unhealthy lifestyle. The pandemic gave us a chance to reboot our lives in a healthy way.” — Carol Bokhari

“I have been a musician since I was a child. I married a musician and we both became involved in two, sometimes three groups with two or three evenings out a week for rehearsals. During the pandemic those groups stopped meeting. I have always hated going out in the evenings and the relief that I felt not having to do so during the pandemic was amazing. I have dropped out of two groups and probably will drop out of the third. My husband has done the same. At age 72, for the first time in my life as a musician, I feel happy and free to spend my time in the evenings at home with my husband relaxing and doing just whatever I want to do!” — Lyn Banghart, Easton, Md.


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