When the Coronavirus hit the fan in the United States, in early March 2020, the Government’s response -national, state and local- locked down our country and its citizens. This extraordinary action was justified by frightening projections of millions dying if the virus was left unchecked. Two months later, the U.S. economy has been crushed. Over 30 million Americans are seeking unemployment benefits. The Federal Reserve has intervened in unprecedented and untested ways. The debt burden for future generations cannot yet be tabulated, but will be substantial. Following roughly two months of sheltering in place there are, as of this writing, roughly 62,000 U.S. Coronavirus deaths. Experts tell us the worst is over, the curve has largely flattened, and we can begin returning to work and trying to restart our economy.
Was the response to the Coronavirus an excessive overreaction or reasoned, tempered and necessary? For some, the answer to this question depends on which side of the political divide one falls. On the right, some say we have balanced the competing considerations-if perhaps gone a little too far-in the interest of public health. On the left, some say we have not moved quickly enough or gone far enough, but concede that once the Government engaged, the response was generally appropriate. Yet a growing chorus of Americans-on both sides of the aisle- are now asking: “Were these extraordinary actions necessary? Were the Governmental encroachments on our liberty and freedom justified? Was this a true crisis warranting a nationwide shutdown or a media fueled, over reaction to a flu like virus outbreak?”
In Sweden, a wholly different response to the Coronavirus seems to have yielded a similar death toll per capita without wholesale shuttering of the country and restraint of its citizens. Targeted restrictions on those most at risk (quarantining) coupled with social distancing and other common sense precautions (i.e. regularly washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze, etc.) have allowed Sweden’s economy to continue, its citizens to live normally, and even its schools to remain open. Swedish officials say that the overwhelming majority of its population will have herd immunity within weeks, which will protect against future spread and largely insulate the most vulnerable as they reintegrate into society. Critics say such an approach would not work here. They justify the shutdown by pointing to our relatively low death toll. But this is anecdotal and proves nothing, especially given Sweden’s experience. The lack of empirical, verifiable evidence that the extreme actions taken had a meaningful impact calls into question their necessity and propriety.
It is every citizen’s duty to challenge and question our government and our leaders. We must all follow the law (made by our elected leaders) but we also have the right and the obligation to engage in spirited, preferably respectful, argument and discourse over the necessity and propriety of laws, especially when they encroach upon the fundamental freedoms and liberties which as Americans we uniquely enjoy.
Stay At Home Orders around the country are ending, some abruptly, some in phases. States and local governments are taking varying approaches to ending the extraordinary restrictions, which is appropriate given demographic and population differences and the disparate impact of the Coronavirus geographically.
As we shift to the “new normal”, a euphemistic media/politician coined term, we must consider our experience. We have had viruses and pandemics since our inception, but never a nationwide shutdown. We should never again adopt such an overly broad response unless there is no other reasonable alternative. Here there was, but fear and ignorance, frothed to overflowing on all media, social and otherwise, blinded us to it. We should have focused on facts, not media fueled hyperbole, and on protecting those most at risk, narrowly tailoring restrictions to protect them. This seems logical, but in our “new normal” political correctness also overflows, often obscuring reason. Concern that forcing only a, discrete group to shelter in place would be “unfair” or somehow “discriminatory” may unintentionally have contributed to our nation’s ill-considered response.