Man’s struggle for freedom is at least as old as the archetypal story of Moses leading his people out of bondage. Free will and freedom have always come at a cost. Yet in the last month, we have seen a sudden, though we hope temporary, surrender of freedoms in the country that has always paid the price for freedom.
The novel coronavirus response has almost totally curtailed the right to peacefully assemble. Our religious services now must be exercised through a computer screen. Governments are looking for ways to curtail gun purchases. The Department of Justice sought authority to detain suspects without a trial indefinitely.
Government agencies are dusting off their wish lists to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, much as they did in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Unrelated proposals like monitoring corporate board diversity and bailing out the U.S. Postal Service are put forward as ways to help fight the virus. There’s an opportunistic rush underway for money and power.
Is the coronavirus a sufficient threat to justify the surrender of all of these cherished freedoms? As I write, deaths in the United States remain relatively small when compared to the entire population. But the upward trend is alarming. In America, the daily rate of deaths is doubling roughly every 72 hours. Who knows? Within a couple of weeks, the horror stories from Italy may be commonplace in New York City.
Thus, the president’s expressed desire to restore “normal” to the United States seems premature, almost reckless. How can he contemplate relaxing the near-national lockdown we’re currently experiencing when continuing restrictions could save lives?
One answer may be a potential medical solution. Significant evidence supports the hypothesis that a family of drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, when combined with a common antibiotic, may prevent COVID-19 from killing its victim in most cases.
But the media have resisted this good news. Outlets have hyped the story of an Arizona man dying after taking a related chemical used to treat aquariums. But that’s not all. There’s a story of three overdoses in Nigeria. A small Chinese study failed to reproduce the results from the French study. Nevertheless, the FDA is fast-tracking the study of chloroquine and other drugs in the hope that an existing drug can be used to reduce mortality from the COVID-19 infection.
Americans are suffering under the quarantine and near-quarantine conditions. Setting aside the obvious economic disaster that continues to build, Americans are missing out on life. Weddings, funerals, church, family dinners, concerts, vacations, and countless other essential human activities have been canceled to fight the virus. Some can be rescheduled. Others can never be replaced. Young people, in particular, are missing cherished milestones like school dances, sports seasons, and irreplaceable classroom time.
Nobody wants people to die. But we have to agree upon a point at which this has to stop.
My son made this point: the flattening of the curve approach to managing this crisis comes at the cost of drawing out the pandemic over a longer timeline. Many point to this chart contrasting the strategies employed by Philadelphia and St. Louis in response to the 1918 flu pandemic. It seems to visually confirm the wisdom of social isolation. But the slowing of the spread of the virus also means we’re slowing the resolution of the crisis.
Pandemics of varying severity will always sweep through our population. The current panic over COVID-19 has presented a moment of rare opportunity for a growing authoritarian movement within the country. There’s talk of government take-over of factories or even whole industries. The Department of Justice is talking about making it a crime to hold needed privately owned items in a warehouse. We watch briefings to receive our daily instructions from our government officials on how to conduct our lives. The world is slowly shrinking for each of us as our lives increasingly become a de facto house arrest.
Zero deaths cannot be the standard for lifting the lockdown. We’ll never achieve zero deaths. Even as coronavirus abates, another illness will take its place. The opiate of power will be hard for many public officials to relinquish. A lot of people are going to get really rich from this panic.
Americans will eventually need to insist upon the return of their freedoms. If we wait for no death until we demand a return of our liberty, we will have lost everything to this pandemic.