The civil disobedience movement, if you can call it that, is slowly spreading as the Great Isolation expands from days to weeks to months.
The “social distance” wall is cracking, despite Dr. Deborah Birx’s warning that we will have — must have — social distances through the summer. Like Dr. Anthony Fauci, Birx has the confidence of most Americans.
The unrest is a combination of cabin fever and Thomas Paine.
Today’s home school assignment is Paine, a political philosopher and radical whose pamphlets lit the fuse of the American Revolution. “Common Sense” and “The American Crisis” were among his most important.
His ideas could be boiled down to one word: Independence. His works are believed to be the first published words to demand independence.
His best-remembered quote: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
Those are fitting words for these days, are they not? Today we’d be saying “people’s souls” to include all of us.
There are two types of “independence” today.
First are the people who thoughtlessly or deliberately ignore the social distancing rules. These are the people who won’t wear facemasks (that protect you), who congregate in parks and on beaches, providing easy transmission for the COVID-19 virus. Call it complacency.
To be fair, it is easy to maintain 6-foot distances in parks and on beaches. (See photo with lots of space.) I unavoidably get closer to people in the Acme. So beaches can be open if people do the right thing, but many don’t.
Second are the anti-government activists largely whipped up by conservative talk radio. These people may have an economic motive — they are hurting and want to return to work — but also have political motives. They are likely to be waving American flags or Gadsden (“Don’t tread on me”) flags, and also weapons.
In the former category are those exhibiting “quarantine fatigue,” as reported by researchers at the University of Maryland.
They tracked smartphone data and detected a small shift during the week of April 13, when 31% didn’t move a mile or more, down from 33% a week earlier. “It looks like people are loosening up on their own to travel more,” said Lei Zhang, director of the Maryland Transportation Institute at Maryland.
He suggested they might be responding to states preparing to open, plus President Donald J. Trump’s “liberate” tweets. This suggests the lack of compliance may increase once states allow businesses to actually open, as is happening now. People might have developed a false sense of security.
Consequences? “If people are out and about, there’s more risk of transmission,” said Dr. Wilbur Chen, associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, “and when there’s transmission, you have more cases of hospitalizations and death.”
Epidemiologist George Rutherford of the University of California at San Francisco said, “Letting people decide for themselves because they’re bored is not a good way to do it.”
Is that what we are beginning to see?
The New York Times reports protests across the country, politically or economically motivated.
Some are what you might call Paine protestors, others genuinely fear their businesses may be doomed and they will be pulled into permanent poverty.
Those are not imaginary concerns.
With that said, public health officials say ignoring social distances will zoom the U.S. death rate, which recently passed 50,000 Americans.
A recent Pew poll reported two-thirds of Americans fear opening up the economy too quickly and setting the table for increased deaths.
It is not an easy choice.
I can understand the fatigue, but I would err on the side of caution.
Bankrupt businesses can be rebuilt. Death cannot be reversed.