Shifting Ends and Evolving Means in Fighting COVID-19

The United States will not know when it has achieved victory over COVID-19 until it clearly defines what that victory looks like. Defining victory will allow us to determine properly what means are necessary to achieve this goal. Such a definition is sorely needed as the goalposts keep moving and the means to score against this invisible threat assumes a longer timeline and an increasingly draconian curtailment of liberty. 

When COVID-19 first emerged on the scene, U.S. officials were hesitant with their response. This was due in large part to the World Health Organization (WHO), which downplayed the severity of the virus thanks to pressure from the Chinese government.

  • The WHO noted on January 5 that an “unknown pneumonia” had originated in Wuhan, China.
  • On January 14, it declared that sustained human-to-human transmission was not occurring.
  • On January 23, the WHO director-general issued a statement that it was too early to declare COVID-19 an international health emergency.
  • On January 31, President Trump issued a travel suspension for noncitizens who had been in China.
  • On February 4, the WHO urged against imposing travel bans.
  • Not until March 11 did the WHO declare COVID-19, colloquially known as the Wuhan virus, a pandemic. Panic ensued.

Several days after the WHO’s declaration, Trump spoke to the nation regarding social distancing. Food, masks, and toilet paper flew off grocery shelves as house arrests, labeled “stay-at-home orders,” took effect across the nation. 

In Virginia, for example, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam closed all K-12 schools, declared a public health emergency, and issued Executive Order 53. This order prohibited gatherings in public or private of more than 10 people, closed food, recreational, and entertainment businesses, and ordered all businesses to adhere to social distancing rules.

Michigan under Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer went even further. She barred people from traveling between homes, prohibited items deemed “nonessential” from being sold (items such as paint, furniture, plants, and other nursery items), and outlawed the use of motorboats (but not rowboats). On top of this, she violated the Emergency Management Act of 1976 by extending her emergency powers in the face of the Republican state legislature’s express disapproval.

Meanwhile, California lives under the arbitrary rule of Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, who last week ordered Orange County beaches closed because of social media pictures. This order came despite a low COVID-19 death rate in Orange County.

Liberty Worth Fighting For?

Americans entered the period of quarantine with relatively good cheer and willingness to abide by the rules when they seemed sensible. That willingness has begun to fade thanks to the draconian measures that remain in place and continue to threaten American liberties. Freedom of religion and freedom of association have been severely curtailed, often in ludicrous fashion. For instance, Louisville, Kentucky Mayor Greg Fischer banned church drive-ins for Easter.

Historically, nations have gone to war to preserve their way of life. There is perhaps no greater example of this than the actions of Great Britain during World War II. Inadequately prepared and recently defeated on the battlefields of Norway and France, the British stood alone against the Nazi menace for 363 days. They had a choice and could have sought come to terms with Hitler. To do so would have jeopardized their freedoms, prosperity, and way of life. Rather than submit to tyranny, they were determined to fight on at great cost in blood and treasure during the war years.

Today, America is in danger of giving up her way of life for a false sense of safety and security.

The response of the United States to COVID-19 has had a drastic impact on the liberties Americans enjoy and how they go about their daily lives. They are not allowed to associate with friends, family, or business colleagues for private or commercial purposes without the permission of the government. This is a curtailment of liberty that was unthinkable just six months ago. Today, any departure from the current norm is decried as unscientific and dangerous. Not only have Americans given up their way of life, but also they are in danger of creating new technologies and methods that will jeopardize their liberties in the future.

Specifically, the Fourth Amendment protection against unwarranted searches and seizures is in jeopardy. Contact tracing plays an important role in limiting the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Apple and Google have teamed up to create a contact tracing application to make this effort in defeating COVID-19 more effective. While currently optional, this application has the potential to be abused by both private companies and the government. It is essentially a general warrant to seize personal property (one’s location data). 

Americans must ask whether we should condone the domestic surveillance of citizens as a necessary part of defeating COVID-19. The danger lies not just in the immediate legal and moral issues of this course of action but also in the precedent it sets for the future. 

Switching Goals, Denying Freedoms

Current plans to address the coronavirus must have substantive direction regarding how the power given to government officials and employees will be exercised. Broad legislative mandates are prone to abuse. We need to recognize that our officials are but men and that often when men are given broad and undefined grants of authority this power is used in an arbitrary and capricious manner. America is a nation that prizes the rule of law and to maintain it we must vigorously defend it against officials who defer to “scientists” before state laws and the U.S. Constitution. 

Americans must understand our goals clearly in this situation as well as what it will take to achieve them. 

When all of this started, the goal was to “flatten the curve” in order to protect our weak healthcare infrastructure from being overwhelmed. We have so far achieved this goal while ramping up the production of necessary medical supplies. 

The media and certain public officials have now switched the goal. No longer is it enough to flatten the curve but we must protect people from their own desires in order to eradicate the threat. This is not what Americans agreed to do, and achieving this goal would destroy our way of life, violate state and national laws, and cause the economy to implode.

About Zachary D. Rogers

Zachary Rogers is a graduate of UCCS, Hillsdale College, and the John Jay Institute. Additionally, he is a former intern of the Independence Institute, Family Research Council, and the Claremont Institute. He resides in Arkansas.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

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