Last weekend’s column on the outbreak of Covid-19 centered around Weiser, Idaho, drew quite a few responses, many of them praising the point in the article. Some sought to differ.
I thought a couple of points ought to be made in response to one of them, however, largely because the ideas expressed in this mail.
I’ve withheld the name of the writer, in part because what I wanted to respond to is not him personally (I intend no attack, and I want to thank him for his response; responses are always welcome) but a couple of concepts which are surely widespread at this point.
… you can stay at home and self quarantine if you like. That’s your call but most of us need to go to work and our kids and grandkids need to be in school. The truth is and you know it that 98%+ don’t even know they have it, have no symptoms and get over it in a short while. I don’t know why death is so frightening. We all will eventually succumb to it. It strikes old, young, healthy, and people in poor health. And for many, many reasons one of which may be this so-called Covid 19. But to obsess over it is ridiculous. To me it is simply a hoax and I don’t believe Governor Little said he would punish those who simply believe different.. That’s your wishful thinking. I imagine you are still receiving a paycheck so it doesn’t effect you. It’s it funny how the ones pushing this are all receiving their regular compensation.
Two basic points here.
The notion that “I don’t know why death is so frightening” may be reasonable enough as a matter of personal attitude, but many of us – most of us – would far rather that day come later rather than sooner, if we can help it. The larger point he implicitly makes here is that he is willing to take that risk, of incapacitating illness or death, because “most of us need to go to work and our kids and grandkids need to be in school.”
I’d find that choice of carrying on in the face of pandemic defensible if the person making that decision is the only person affected by it. But that’s not the case, and it cannot be. If my respondent caught the disease, he might wind up spreading it, to a few people or to many, and that could happen even if his own case is so light he shows no symptoms. If he did show symptoms, would he pledge then to isolate himself from anyone else – including medical and emergency personnel – no matter how bad things got? (Of course, if things went to their worst, the body would still have to be disposed of by someone afterward …)
Who are you willing to risk? Sneeze in a grocery store with a bunch of people nearby: Whose grandma are you willing to kill? Such risks are profoundly wrong: You have no right to put other people at risk, even if you’re willing to do so to yourself.
Going maskless and socially tight isn’t just a matter of the risk you take on your own behalf. It’s a risk you impose of other people. The argument is the same (sorry, I know I’ve made this point ad nauseum) as the one you’d have to make to argue for eliminating drunk driving laws.
My respondent positions the tension, as many people do, as one between health concerns on one side and economic/social concerns on the other. The problem here is that the two are not separate. Take a look at the economic stats (some of the restaurant usage statistics from recent weeks are especially eye-opening) in the period of “re-opening” and you’ll find the economic effects of the pandemic are not going away quickly even when the government regulations do.
Put simpler, as others have said: The economy won’t recover until the sickness is under control.
I started with an extended quote; I’ll end with a short one from writer Kayla Chadwick (back in 2017): “Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.”