Reporter’s notebook: The coronavirus culture wars continue on
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the newest front in the culture war between the left and the right: the coronavirus. As things begin slowly to reopen and as we learn to live with COVID-19 floating around out there, this battle shows no signs in slowing down. Both sides are foolish.
On one hand you continue to have people on the right fighting against, frankly, lawful orders limiting the types of businesses that can reopen at one time or how many can be in a business at one time and the types of things businesses have to do. You even have some fighting back against guidance for mask usage.
Folks, I don’t like masks either. I certainly don’t wear mine all the time. I only wear it in instances where I know social distancing will be hard, such as in grocery stores. I don’t wear it simply for being outside. I laugh at anyone wearing one inside their cars, because that is a pure waste. But I do wear my mask in tight spaces. It doesn’t make anyone weak to wear a mask.
For the same reason some on the right mistake political incorrectness as an excuse to simply be mean or inconsiderate, the same goes for mask wearing. It’s a sign of consideration for your fellow human. As an individual, it’s an individual choice you can make. The state isn’t making you do it.
As for requirements being placed on businesses in regard to cleanliness, occupancy and health, as we went over two columns ago these are legal things to do. State code provides for these kinds of health regulations, especially during a pandemic, and state and federal courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have traditionally sided with these laws.
There was a reason that President Donald Trump and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only released recommendations and guidelines. Because it definitely is constitutionally problematic for the federal government to step in and mandate public health regulations. After all, we are a country of united states. It is at the state-level where these powers resident.
I’ve heard the complaint that county and state health officers are unelected bureaucrats. True, nobody elected them. But they were appointed and hired by elected officials to do a job: protect public health. Whether you think there should even be health departments is another story and a valid public policy argument. But for now, they’re here and usually go ignored until they interfere with a VFW’s right to allow smoking or something.
There was another protest and rally at the state Capitol in Charleston over the weekend. According to the event’s Facebook post, the goal was to “peacefully protest our opposition to the way the government is handling the Covid19 response, reopening and our freedoms.”
Again, are they protesting the federal government or state government? Because the state government is following the guidelines of the federal government, headed by a guy they all seem to support, yet also think is hypnotized by public health officials who are trying to hurt the economy. You can’t support one and protest the other.
On the other hand, there is a concerted effort by some on the left to keep the lockdown going under the idea that one shouldn’t have to make a choice between your life and a job. Never mind that in West Virginia, there are only 482 active cases of the coronavirus since May 13. There have been 1,434 cumulative cases in the state since May 14.
New cases in most counties have slowed. More than 51 percent of the state’s 62 deaths as of Friday morning have occurred in nursing homes and more than one-third of all cases are people age 60 and up (of that number, 21 percent are people over the age of 70). As we’re testing more, we’re finding more people that have COVID-19 and have no symptoms.
I get people being scared. There was a lot of scary information presented about this virus in March as it began to sweep over the country. We didn’t know much about it then. There is still much we don’t know about it now, but we certainly know more now than we knew then. The lockdowns allowed states to prepare for massive surges into our hospitals and acquire personal protective equipment and ventilators.
But not going back to work due to fears of getting sick or bringing the virus home to someone in the high-risk categories so they can keep collecting unemployment is not prudent. I’m glad unemployment has been available and glad that we included an extra $600. People are hurting and will be for some time, but if you’re getting called back to work, you’re going to have to weigh your options. But based on the data, it’s not a black-and-white choice between the economy and health.
Even a doctor at Johns Hopkins University who advocated early in February for lockdowns has since backed away from that stance. In an op-ed in The New York Times last week, Dr. Marty Makary said states need to open back up and called for universal use of masks, more time spent outside, businesses to adapt (using grocery stores as prime examples that have adapted effectively), prioritizing protection of nursing homes, and protecting vulnerable populations.
We do have to live with this virus in our environment. We can’t stay locked down. We can’t continue to print money to dole out to states forever (though what we’ve done so far has been necessary). A recession (which we are most certainly in now) or a small depression will kill people too.
The only thing these battles between the left wing and the right wing do is squeeze the rest of us in the middle who want to open back up, but also plan to take the appropriate precautions to protect each other.
(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at email@example.com)