[guest post by Dana]
Throughout the nation, a segment of the population has become increasingly frustrated with ongoing coronavirus stay-at-home orders, and as a result, are holding protests in an increasing number of states. These Americans appear less concerned about a highly contagious virus tearing through the nation, and more focused on what they see as the heavy-handedness of government infringing on their civil liberties. Last week, President Trump egged on supporters to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Virginia and Minnesota – three swing states with Democratic governors – and now a segment of the population is following his lead. Even overwhelmingly Democratic states with Democratic governors are also facing protests in their cities.
As we’ve discussed at length here, this is a matter of competing interests which need to be balanced: public health and re-opening the economy. Findng the sweet spot is something that won’t come easily. As such, we’ve been cautioned repeatedly that opening up the economy will need to happen incrementally, and must include scaled-up testing, as well as keeping social distancing measures in place.
Dr. Fauci warned today that the the effort to dismiss stay-at-home orders could easily backfire on protesters:
Clearly this is something that is hurting from the standpoint of economics and the standpoint of things that have nothing to do with the virus, but unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen.
So what you do if you jump the gun and go into a situation where you have a big spike, you’re going to set yourself back,” he said. “So as painful as it is to go by the careful guidelines of gradually phasing into a reopening, it’s going to backfire. That’s the problem.
From viewing photographs and newsclips of protests across the nation, what stands out is a near-complete disregard for social distancing practices, including standing six-feet apart and wearing face masks. Clearly a lot of protesters have dismissed the well-documented vigorous rate of coronavirus contagion, and believe that they are immune to any possible infection. But the problem is, they aren’t just putting themselves at risk. Protesters will return home to their families, and, at some point, interact with community members, thus putting everyone at risk. This doesn’t bode well for an easing back to business as usual. If protesters don’t think they need to maintain an acceptable distance from their neighboring protester and wear a mask at a crowded rally, do you think they will voluntarily adhere to their state’s reentry procedure, which will very likely include wearing masks and continuing with social distancing measures? If you want to protest, fine. But ignoring safety measures – measures that the White House and the CDC have advised – puts others at risk. It’s not a hard concept to grasp.
What’s caused further frustration, and this is somewhat understandable, is the inconsistency in restrictions. This has resulted in a dangerous risk of losing the voluntary compliance of these same people. And voluntary compliance is absolutely necessary to managing the virus, and ensuring a successful re-opening of the states:
[O]verzealous or otherwise foolish lockdown policies are a good way to increase the size of that minority and make its case look reasonable… Mayors in several Southern locales tried to prohibit drive-in church services before an outcry or court order got them to back down. In some cities, police have forcibly ejected people from subways for not using masks…Governor Gretchen Whitmer allowed Home Depot to stay open but forced it to close off parts of its stores…Most people understand that even basically sensible policies can be taken too far. But excess in enforcing social distancing poses special risks that deserve attention from government officials…they make the lockdowns less bearable and raise their costs. The would-be house painter in Michigan, the aspiring churchgoers in the South, the parents who would like to let their kids run around in the sunlight: All have legitimate complaints…they undermine confidence in the intelligence and sensitivity of the officials and the policies. People are putting up with the restrictions out of a sense that they’re unfortunately needed. But you don’t have to be a die-hard libertarian to think that when something is not necessary for governments to do, it is necessary for them not to do it – especially when that something is issuing orders to citizens…Social distancing, like a lot of public-health campaigns, depends on a high degree of voluntary compliance. It therefore requires that the public has confidence that the people leading the efforts are not just looking for excuses to boss people around, that they are mindful of the costs of their policies, that they have given some thought to what they are doing.
Nonetheless, while I appreciate a healthy wariness of government overreach where civil liberties are concerned and inconsistent foolishness from some governors, this does not change the fact that we are facing a highly contagious virus that doesn’t care about principles, political persuasions, personal philosophies, or anything that one might claim takes priority over practicing reasonable safety measures. We are not being compelled to permanently modify our behaviors. We are being asked to temporarily modify our behavior in order to help prevent further transmission of a deadly virus which is highly contagious and has wreaked havoc across the nation in a very short period of time. And it’s the sort of highly contagious virus that requires everyone to hold the line. Six feet apart and a mask when out in public. How is that a big deal? No matter what you think of government, or social distancing orders to help minimize the spread of the disease, let me ask you, why the isn’t your family, or your neighbor worth the extra effort?
It should be obvious that one can both understand the need to get people back to work and and the need to keep the public health risk as low as possible (through prescribed mesaures such as social distancing and wearing a mask). But the danger of not adhering to social distancing measures when re-opening the states will only certainly extend lockdown measures because more people will become infected . This isn’t rocket science. And while she sounded like a condescending scold when she made the point, Gov. Whitmer was right about this.
Just as I was finishing this post, Kellyanne Conway was on Fox News and said that Trump wants protesters to follows social distancing guidelines:
“We want people to adhere to the CDC guidelines. People should read those guidelines. We need physical distancing of at least 6 feet. Wear that face covering, that mask…
When it was pointed out to her that the protesters were clearly breaching those social distancing lines, Conway deflected and pointed out that some of governors had “distanced themselves from common sense,” and referred to the protesters as “the forgotten men and women,” (which will probably be tapped as a 2020 campaign slogan). She also believes that some of these state governors have been “more concerned about…controlling the populations than protecting them. She did come back around and say that “it’s the President’s guidelines that are out there that everyone should be adhereing to.”