Liberty does not mean irresponsibility

Beatrice Moyers, Senior Editor

COVID-19 is obviously a very big deal. As of now, there are about 2 million confirmed cases in the United States, and that number is sure to be out of date by the time that this article is published. After almost three months in quarantine, there is no consensus on how we should proceed. Americans often define their country’s values using the word “freedom,” so it is extremely difficult to convince them that they don’t have the right to go out. In the past few weeks, many states have started to reopen, but we still don’t have a vaccine. 

There’s no easy answer to the question of when the country should reopen, and some feel that addressing the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 should be our priority. For example, Henry McMaster, the governor of South Carolina, has allowed gyms, pools, restaurants, and some retail stores to reopen, saying that “Our goal is to save lives, but also to save jobs and to save families and save the futures that are depending on these businesses that are so heavily hit and impacted.”

It seems that people are so desperate to go out again, they’re willing to overlook the potential health risk involved. On May 21st, Disney World’s Disney Springs reopened, after being closed for over two months. Guests could go shopping and eat in restaurants, although all rides were still shut down. However, despite the extremely limited nature of the reopening, many restaurants and shops had long lines, as people flocked to come visit. As one Disney lover wrote on Disney Tourist Blog, “Guys, do it and go! I went and it was okay, but worth it! You can hear the Disney music, and it does still feel magical!” If crowds will brave the possibility of infection to go to a Disney World with no rides that is just “okay,” they’re most likely willing to disregard the ongoing danger the virus poses. 

America has long been a country where people feel entitled to certain rights. At the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, it states that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” From its creation, America has thought of itself as a country in which citizens have the right to pursue “happiness” and have access to “liberty, ” regardless of how true that actually has been. This means (at least ostensibly) that people can choose what they want to do with their lives. These words have also always been vague. What exactly does “liberty” entail, and what did the founders mean when they said that everyone should be entitled to pursue happiness?

Many who have taken to the streets in protest of social distancing have taken the words of the founding fathers to express a sentiment that’s also been voiced countless times in the past: This is America, so we can do whatever makes us feel good, and no one can stop us. These sentiments are perhaps best demonstrated by the words of one man, who answered a Costco employee asking him to put on a mask by saying he wouldn’t wear one “because I woke up in a free country.” But problems emerge when expressing your freedom harms other people and defies policies put in place for community well-being. As we all know at this point, COVID-19 is extremely contagious. We practice social distancing to slow down the disease’s spread and to protect the most vulnerable people from getting sick. Since a vaccine is still a while away, some have expressed the opinion that social distancing shouldn’t be ending very soon. A research paper from Harvard’s school of public health has declared that “prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022.” 

However, it’s important to note the precautions required by many places that are beginning to reopen. In Disney Springs, guests can only take off their masks while eating; this rule has been strictly enforced. Other places have seen similar restrictions, as reopened restaurants run at limited capacity in order to prevent the spread of disease between customers. If COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon, initiatives like these are the only way forward. It’s also important to recognize that although social distancing protests may seem illogical, these protesters are at least partially reacting to the very real fears of a wrecked economy and massive unemployment. At some point, more places will start to reopen, and it will be up to individuals to determine how comfortable they are engaging with the outside world.

But, while the question of when to reopen states is complicated, one thing remains certain: COVID-19 is serious, and things won’t be the way they were pre-virus for a long time. And if you’re asked to wear a mask? You should wear one.