How does spreading the coronavirus justify the protests against lockdown?


This is not an image of the current protests in the freedom movement. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

Melissa Thomas, Editor

No one is a stranger to the total country-wide shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Busy cities and streets once booming with customers and consumers are now completely desolate, as millions of Americans are forced to stay home in an effort to curb the increasingly rising number of cases in the U.S. The unemployment rate within the country has reached an all-time high since its steady decline from 2012.

As the curve optimistically begins to flatten in the U.S., where we are currently the number one country in the world with the highest number of coronavirus cases, some American citizens have taken to the streets to protest stay-at-home orders in states across the country. Recently, 250 people gathered outside the Indiana courthouse in Indianapolis on April 18 as a part of the current movement aimed to protect their “free rights” as individuals amidst these government-mandated orders. 

One of the most crucial ways to prevent the spread of the possibly fatal coronavirus is to socially distance: there have been numerous government recommendations for the past several weeks to remain six feet away from others, only travel for essential business and gather in groups of less than ten people. In a drastic effort to reduce the number of cases in the U.S.- which, need I remind you, is the top country in the world for having the highest number of coronavirus cases- many state governments have issued stay-at-home orders. For Indiana, a lockdown has been in place since March 25 and has been set to end on May 1, over a month after the lockdown first began. Citizens can be fined, or even arrested, if they are found to be travelling outside of their home for any non-essential reason.

Gathering in groups of over 200 people to protest a government-mandated lockdown put in place for the safety of our community is not an essential business. It is ironic to me that protestors are fighting to reopen the economy; they don’t realize that their rallies are hurting their case even more. 

Let’s look at an ideal world for the protestors where Indiana governor Eric Holcomb appeals to their complaints and uplifts the Indiana lockdown, opening up all business as usual in our state. Workers return to their jobs, friends visit each other and go out, perhaps even schools begin to hold class again. Thousands of people are coming into contact with each other each day before any means of immunization or protection is available to the wider public. 

Anyone else see a flaw in this system?

If we reopen the economy too soon, this could cause a huge influx in coronavirus cases as more people come into contact with each other, without herd immunity or even a lower case count in Indiana. Focusing just on the economy, the mass number of cases that could come from uplifting lockdowns now could cause an even bigger crash in the U.S., not to mention any further social and personal repercussions. This second wave would be felt by every individual and family across the country and could lead to a much, much bigger economic problem than we have now. If protesters want to focus on improving our current situation, they need to understand what could happen to our economy if we opened up precipitately. 

Now, this may all be just one possible outcome of reducing social distancing orders. There could be thousands of more possibilities and what I detailed above is just the worst-case scenario. In the Spanish Flu epidemic from 1918 to 1920, the first wave of the flu killed 3-5 million people. The second wave reportedly killed 20-50 million. If we are to learn from history, the dangers of being too careless in returning to normal life is ridiculously high. Given the nature of how easily the coronavirus can be spread, it can be safe to assume that a deadly second wave would be extremely likely as more people begin to leave their homes. The U.S. already waited too long to respond to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic when it reached our shores and here we are now, with 823,610 confirmed cases as of April 21. 

I understand why those protesting against the lockdown are upset over losing their jobs and the disruption of social distancing rules on their daily lives. I have lost valuable experiences from the end of my senior year, as well as two jobs that would have allowed me to save money before starting college (which may, if I may point out, even be online now for the first semester). I am in an incredibly lucky position where my family is still able to provide for me during this time, however thousands of families are struggling deeply from the impacts of the lockdown and have not been so lucky, struggling to pay rent or even feed their families in the face of losing their jobs. Even with the recent paychecks being delivered from the federal government to help keep small businesses and individuals afloat in times of this economic recession, this is not enough to help a lot of people who have lost an incredible amount of business. 

However, what I cannot accept or even begin to comprehend from the protestors is the idea that individuals should be able to control their actions and ability to work, without interference from the government, when it endangers others in their communities. It is not a violation of our constitutional rights that the government is mandating stay-at-home orders to protect not only vulnerable populations, but everybody in our community. It should not be up to an individual on whether they can still go out when their singular actions could affect our entire community, causing fatalities to many other individuals. The coronavirus is not something that should be politicised by different parties. Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, or neither, death is universal. Pain is universal. 

Our pride as Americans and the liberty we so strongly uphold as a country should not be an argument against the prevention of millions of hospitalizations and deaths across the country. Stay-at-home orders are not a plight against religion or Republicans or the working class or our free will and independence. It is the means required to keep our country from falling into a chaotic and frightening state. 

I’m assuming those who are lax in disregarding the government’s recommendations to stay in small groups (instead choosing to mass in hundreds) may also be going out everyday as an exercise of this “free right”. Even if one protestor has contracted the virus- an estimated 25 percent of cases are asymptomatic- this can easily spread between every individual they pass, especially as they are yelling their protests. Yelling and shouting is an easy way for water droplets of an infected individual to come into contact with someone else and is one of the most common ways to contract the virus. 

Given the dangers of holding mass protests, the purpose of the protests, to me, is contradicted by their actions. Logically, it is unreasonable to primarily blame the state lockdown for lack of business. Even if Holcomb has not issued a stay-at-home order, many individuals are exercising their own “free right” to isolate at home and protect themselves. If the lockdown were to be lifted, it is not guaranteed that the economy would be completely fixed as it is not the sole reason for our current dire situation, though protesters may see it this way. I believe anyone participating in these protests against the state lockdown are fighting for an overreached cause and focusing on the wrong side of the issue. 

In contrast to the worst-case scenario that I introduced in the beginning of this piece, where a second wave of coronavirus hits us harder after the government lifts the lockdown, lifting the lockdown may not even make such an impact at all. The stay-at-home order was put in place, ironically, for such people as those protesting on the streets, as they ignore the looming peril of the coronavirus and stand in the face of wider infection by refusing to socially distance without a government order being put into place. 

The protests occurring across the U.S. has reached a pinnacle of frustration and exasperation for me in the way our country is dealing with the pandemic. If we do not begin taking things seriously, the effects of COVID-19 will touch pressure points in our economy, our society and our overall way of life that could cause months, even years, of rebuilding throughout the U.S. While everyone feels the frustration and fear of the uncertainty for what’s to come, these protests will ultimately come to cause much more harm than good. The coronavirus affects us all, and we are all disappointed by the many plans and dreams that were lost in an effort to remain safe. 

Fighting political battles and being selfish is not what will cure this virus. We as a country are in such a polarized state now that it has become nearly impossible to find a middle ground in any issue, even something as mutant and uncontrollable as the contagious COVID-19. While it can be painful and hurtful at times, the most important action any of us can partake right now to ensure the protection of our future is to work together peacefully as we fight this common battle.