By Kirk Effinger
“No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” — John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624)
One of the sometimes unfortunate consequences of our current stay-at-home situation is the amount of free time that can be devoted to ruminations about the meaning of life on Facebook and other platforms. I was recently engaged in a brief social media “conversation” with someone regarding the effects of, and public responses to, the COVID-19 pandemic.
While discussing the importance placed on masks, self-isolation, and social-distancing, my fellow conversationalist allowed that they were the only ones responsible for their health and wellbeing, thereby absolving any need for them to practice the aforementioned and ignoring the fact that these practices are as much, if not even more so, designed to protect those who they come in contact with.
A small but vocal contingent of people decrying government encroachment on their freedoms are trying to make the case that the Constitution gives them unfettered rights to do and say anything they want, the rest of us be damned. Were that attitude the prevailing one for any manner of threats to public health and safety, we would be driving cars without seatbelts (while ignoring all motor vehicle laws), eating uninspected foods, living in houses built without building codes, and so on. Remember, the Supreme Court said that despite the First Amendment permitting freedom of speech, you still can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater.
This attitude, writ large, seems to fit a narrative that seems to be permeating “freedom” rallies and demonstrations demanding government reopen the economy and get people back to work. I get it. Everyone — or nearly so — is hurting. Businesses are in danger of closing permanently. People’s financial futures are in doubt. Government services we all depend on are in danger of being cut due to crashing revenues.
But if we allow things to get back to anything like “normal” before we have adequate testing and contact tracing (at a minimum), and people accept standards of behavior that are inconvenient, scientists tell us we risk a second, and possibly more deadly “second wave” of infections.
This pandemic and the responses to it have been hijacked by politicians and political rhetoric to a large degree. Elected government officials in many cases have yielded to the temptation to weaponize all aspects to, as Rahm Emanuel put it “… never [let] a serious crisis to go to waste.” The pressure being placed on Gov. Gavin Newsom by cities and counties to allow them to begin reopening on a local and regional basis belies the fact that COVID-19, like any disease, doesn’t respect boundaries.
Riverside County currently has the distinction of having the second-highest death rate in the state of any county (261 deaths as of this writing) and is rapidly approaching the total number of deaths in South Korea (263), a nation with over ten-times the population. I live in Southwest Riverside County and in normal times I, like many of my fellow residents, commute to San Diego County. Others travel as far away as Orange County and downtown Los Angeles.
Without a coordinated effort to mitigate possible exposure, the risk of us either bringing infection to or taking from these locales is too great. One only need look at the effect cross-border traffic is visiting on South Bay hospitals to understand this.
Politics is about gaining and maintaining power. Leadership is about doing what is right for the common good. If we are to be successful in making our way through these challenging times, we need fewer politicians and more leaders.
Kirk Effinger is a Realtor and former opinion columnist for the North County Times and San Diego Union-Tribune.
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