Opinion: In fighting COVID, right now it’s life over liberty and the pursuit of happiness

Last weekend was a depressing one, even by COVID standards, with the increasingly bleak and alarming news of record-shattering coronavirus cases and deaths in Long Beach as well as  throughout the county and state and nation.

Those numbers, especially the numbers regarding the diminishing capacity of ICU rooms in the Southern California region, have caused Gov. Gavin Newsom to once again issue a series of mandates that, while not quite as severe as those issued when the outbreak became serious last March, nevertheless puts a halt to virtually all the things we were once accustomed to doing, from driving over to check on Grandma to belting out Tantum Ergo in the church’s choir loft, to say nothing of dining out at your beloved steakhouse and then working off those calories the next day indoors at the gym.

The news has been particularly demoralizing coming as it has during the holiday season, with a dire warning against traveling by car, train or plane to gather with relatives, and it’s demoralizing because of how the disease is spreading, which, when you finally get down to it, is largely due to arrogance, rumor, misinformation and ignorance.

The attempted remedy of a large-scale shutdown in March worked to a certain promising extent, and surely would have worked to a larger degree were it not for the fact that many people figured, as the numbers decreased, that the worst was over and that we should hurry up and open restaurants and bars and businesses. And, so, we did to a certain degree. Parklets sprang up on the city’s restaurant rows for outdoor dining. People traveled and congregated, though with warnings about the consequences of doing so, and some went back to work.

People were relatively, cautiously, happy for a bit, and now here we are, backsliding perilously close to the beginning, with restaurants closed, businesses shuttered save for markets and large retail stores and home improvement centers, and the COVID numbers are truly staggering.

Dr. Brian Monahan, attending physician for Congress and the Supreme Court of the United States, reckoned back in March that the virus would go away after anywhere from 700,000 to 1.5 million people in the US became infected with COVID, and now here we are with 14.8 million cases in the country, and 1.37 million in California alone and COVID hasn’t gone away—at all.

Discussion and disagreements regarding the disease basically involves politics vs. science vs. business, and in terms of the public’s acceptance of Newsom’s mandate, politics and business have trumped science.

In politics, the business of doing the minimum—wearing masks and observing social distancing—it’s more or less been accepted along party lines, with thousands continuing to appear free of masks at Trump rallies and marching and congregating in defense of their “liberties,” the most precious of which appears to be the right to eat at restaurants. Many still, unbelievably, consider COVID to be a hoax and if “sheeple” continue to abide by state mandates, can their right to bear, or even own, arms be far behind?

Business is a more precarious issue in that unemployment is rising more or less along with COVID rates and owners and employees are protesting to be allowed to reopen, because (and here comes some misinformation), after all, COVID is no more deadly than the seasonal flu and the survival rate hovers somewhere near 99%. That’s nowhere near serious enough, some claim, to warrant the closure of shops and services.

The 1% death rate that some opponents to the stay-home mandate employ in argument for a reopening, is both small and large–and generally inaccurate. Small, because, well it is small; large, because it’s also a lot; inaccurate because in California right now the death rate is closer to 1.45%, and it’s 1.91% in the US, but let’s go with 1% which, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, makes it about 10 times more lethal than seasonal flu, and, further, when you scale it out to 329 million people in the US, even the wobbliest of math students can see it pencils out to 3.29 million lives. At 1%. And it’s more than 1%.

So, stay home, because science recommends it. Vaccines should come soon, avail yourself of them because science says to. Will sacrifices have to be made? Yes, sacrifices that Americans aren’t used to, and against which many will continue to bristle and protest.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the three unalienable rights which the Declaration of Independence says have been given to all humans by their creator, and which governments are created to protect. We’re at a sad time when all three can’t be granted or enjoyed equally. And the greatest and most important of the three rights right now is life.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.