The Coronavirus and the Liberty versus saving lives debate

The Coronavirus pandemic has ignited online one of the most important debates, where do you draw line between saving lives and protecting freedom and liberty. This is also an internal debate I’ve been struggling with since this whole crisis began and I’ve switched back and forth as things have developed, often too rapidly to keep up with

When the voluntary mass cancellations of sporting events, the closings of schools, and the travel bans from overseas first occurred I believed all of this was an unnecessary overreaction on a major scale.  I maintained that belief for several days.  It wasn’t until I learned the goal behind all of this was to “flatten the curve” that I changed my mind.  Reading this article from The Federalist Papers article Coronavirus Control Measures Aren’t Pointless – Just Slowing Down The Pandemic Could Save Millions of Lives is what changed my mind about all of this

The goal is to “flatten the curve.” Rather than letting the virus quickly rampage through the population and burn itself out fast, the idea is to spread all those infections out over a longer period of time.

Flattening the curve is another way of saying buying more time. Yes, it would potentially prolong the epidemic. But in doing so, public health agencies and the health care infrastructure gain invaluable time to respond to the crisis.

Most importantly, “flattening the curve” provides an opportunity to significantly reduce deaths from COVID-19.

On the steep rise of the epidemic curve, especially when testing capacity is lacking, there is a tremendous burden on health care providers – many of whom will fall ill themselves and be forced to self-isolate, becoming unable to provide care for those in need. At the same time, there is immense pressure placed on health care facilities where demand for patient care will outpace capacity – things like the number of hospital beds, ventilators and so on – for a significant amount of time.

Now that I’m familiar with the topic of flattening the curve I can see that this disruption of normal life is necessary when a society is facing a dangerous contagious disease.  This health crisis introduced me to another new concept which can halt the spread of a communicable disease:

Social distancing requires changes in how people work, live and interact with each other. It may require canceling or avoiding big events, limiting nonessential travel and rescheduling conferences. Traditional classroom instruction may have to move to online delivery – already happening in some colleges and universities, though less easy to do for K-12 schools.

Unfortunately this current threat is a completely new strain of virus, one where no one has a natural immunity.  It is the unknown nature of the threat that convinced me that the closings and cancelings are necessary.

The complete clinical picture with regard to COVID-19 is not fully known. Reported illnesses have ranged from very mild (including some with no reported symptoms) to severe, including illness resulting in death. While information so far suggests that most COVID-19 illness is mild, a reportexternal icon out of China suggests serious illness occurs in 16% of cases. Older people and people of all ages with severe chronic medical conditions — like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, for example — seem to be at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness.

The CDC Website on COVID-19 contains a wealth of great information on this current threat.  It is the communicable nature of this disease that convinced me that these steps are necessary.

A pandemic is a global outbreak of disease. Pandemics happen when a new virus emerges to infect people and can spread between people sustainably. Because there is little to no pre-existing immunity against the new virus, it spreads worldwide.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is infecting people and spreading easily from person-to-person. Cases have been detected in most countries worldwide and community spread is being detected in a growing number of countries. On March 11, the COVID-19 outbreak was characterized as a pandemic by the WHO

This Newsweek article Newt Gingrich: I Am in Italy Amid the Coronavirus Crisis. America Must Act Now—And Act Big was the final piece of information that changed my mind and convinced me that all of this is necessary.

These steps are not an overreaction. The coronavirus is out of control of in Northern Italy. As of 6 p.m. local/1 p.m. EST on March 10, there were 15,113 total cases in Italy, with 12,839 active cases, 1,016 deaths and 1,258 recoveries. And there were 162 total cases here in Rome.

The hardest-hit region around Milan has had to improvise as its health system has been deeply stressed by the sheer number of patients. In Milan and Brescia, field hospitals have been set up in the fairgrounds as the local hospitals have been drowned in patients.

Because the demand for respirators and intensive care has been beyond any previous planning, doctors have been forced into the kind of triage thinking developed for intense battlefield casualty situations. There are reports that emergency room doctors are allotting respirators to those with higher life expectancy due to the limited equipment in the hardest hit areas of the province. If you are older or have other illnesses, you may simply not be eligible for treatment.

As Libertarian I am 100 percent against the government at any level, but especially the federal government, ordering the mandatory canceling of events, domestic travel bans, and closing private businesses.  A much better solution would be for the government to urge, suggest, and educate that all of this necessary, and it takes place.  A voluntary curtailing of social activity is the only way to preserve our freedom and rights while protecting our health.  The mandatory steps taken by Governor Charlie Baler and the rest are wrong because they are mandated by the government.

Unfortunately a lot of people do not listen to good advise and refuse to stop engaging in behavior that puts others at risk of catching this disease, which could cause the virus to spread uncontrollably.  What do we do about that?  UGH.  That is the question that I’m struggling with the most. Liberty is the freedom to do as you wish as long as you do not harm others.  Spreading the virus to others definitely harms them and could harm society as a whole.  

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