May 30, 2020

A Rebellion Against Health Practices

Those first few days in March when COVID-19 burst upon us, it came on so fast and so hard that it was disorienting. It was like suddenly being thrust into a sci fi movie. Things were happening that were too monumentally horrifying to accept as reality.

The rapid speed with which it spread around the world, the number of people infected, the spiraling numbers of deaths, the ghastly reports of kind of death it was, the way the disease suddenly mushroomed so that a person could go from mild symptoms to death within a day, it was all just too much to assimilate. I felt like I was in a daze, never really comprehending the full magnitude of what I was hearing, of what other people were going through. I don’t even know how many weeks went by in that state of maximum emergency.

I guess many people didn’t ever assimilate it and now want to forget, or not believe it happened. Maybe none of us have fully grasped it. How can you make sense of “100,000 deaths” in something like two months? How can one human being fully understand the reality of that? If it didn’t affect you personally, I guess you could be convinced that it was all a big hoax.

Now the emergency has let up a little. New York is no longer a battlefield with bodies piling up in trucks, quiet nights pierced only with the sounds of sirens, people dying because there aren’t enough respirators and other hospital facilities to provide for what they needed to survive. Now even though the virus is still spreading rapidly throughout most of the country, people are understandably tired of being pent up, and worse, desperate because their incomes have vanished. Of course everyone wants to see businesses get going again so they can survive.

In some European countries they have taken a different approach. They are having the government compensate people for staying home and participating in the national effort of stopping the spread. That way people don’t have to risk their lives in order to restart their income.

That idea doesn’t fit the dominant American political philosophy, so it’s not happening here. Unfortunately, opening too soon will probably extend the health crisis, so we’ll be in it longer. Even though it will allow many businesses to get going again soon, if the pandemic gets too far out of control it may hurt them later.

But America is the laboratory of Social Darwinism and laissez faire capitalism, and although our death rate for COVID-19 is far higher than any other country, ideology trumps all. If you want government “small enough to drown in the bathtub,” which was the conservative motto coined by Grover Norquist and embraced by virtually all the big Republicans since Reagan, then you can’t expect much better when a crisis hits. You asked for no government and you got it, right when it would hurt the most.

New York is over the hump now, still suffering from the disease but not in a full-blown crisis any more. Much of the country is still in the early phase of their own episodes of it.

I just read that two weeks after the Supreme Court of Wisconsin overturned the governor’s shut down order, the state has seen

a big spike in COVID cases and deaths.

I worry for the people who think wearing a mask is an infringement on their constitutional rights. Someone told me she objected because it’s “government overreach.”

I told her if she was about to get run over a bus and someone threw himself upon her to knock her out of the way, her right to not be assaulted would have been infringed. But if he saved my life by pushing me out of the way of the bus, then his infringement on me would not be what would be on my mind.

It’s not government overreach when someone we elected to look out for our “general welfare” institutes a policy in an emergency that will help save us all from harm if we all join in. And we join in not because we are being tyrannized, but because we believe the person we charged with the responsibility to take care of those kinds of things has proposed a reasonable policy for that situation. It’s a major emergency, and that’s the way a society has to behave in an emergency. We have to join forces and follow sensible guidelines.

Margaret Thatcher, who led the conservative revolution in the UK at the same time Reagan had his revolution in America, famously said, “There's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”

But as a government official, I think she must have realized that there are some things that require some kind of community effort, that may even require government action. A pandemic is one of those kinds of things.

The pandemic was such an emergency, so devastating that it required leadership. I was happy when the governor of New York took charge and met the challenges. I didn’t feel any need to rebel against the idea of wearing a mask or social distancing. I don’t tend to “go with the crowd” on most things: movies, TV shows, books, products, new trends or fads of any kind. I’m very resistant to such things. But in this case, it seemed to make good sense and I was happy to join in.

I guess there’s about a two-week lag time in watching the effects of loosening the restrictions. I’ll be watching closely, hoping for the best, but with the hard facts of cause and effect it looks like COVID is probably going to be around a long time.

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