COVID-19 response means concern for today, but hope for tomorrow

Written by Derek Monson

March 13, 2020

Despite the understandable anxiety and worry caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the public response from Utahns and Americans should give us cause to hope for the future. Despite our differences, COVID-19 is giving us the opportunity to remember how America accomplishes great things when we voluntarily and locally choose – for the common good – to overcome what divides us.

On Thursday, Governor Gary Herbert, members of the Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force, and state and local health departments held a press conference announcing recommendations to mitigate the spread of this new disease, including:

  1. Limiting mass gatherings of over 100 people.
  2. Avoiding gatherings of more than 20 people if you are immunocompromised or over age 60.
  3. Restricting visitor access to long-term care facilities, as well as monitoring visitors and employees of these facilities for coronavirus symptoms.

What is the value of following these recommendations? In a Q&A with the USA Today editorial board, AEI resident fellow and former federal Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said:

If you implement mitigation steps, what you do is, you slow the rate at which people get the virus. You end up extending the epidemic, it lasts longer, but it doesn’t peak as high. You want to slow the rate of infection here so that you can manage it with the health care system. That’s got to be a primary concern right now.

In short, by following epidemic mitigation strategies, we reduce the number of deaths caused by healthcare systems that cannot treat massive numbers of sick people all at once.

Where do we find hope in all of this?

In recent days, state and local government leaders nationwide have crossed the partisan divide and taken action toward the common goal of limiting the spread of COVID-19. Leaders of professional sports and administrators of collegiate athletics have risen above monetary considerations and accepted financial losses from postponing or canceling athletic events for the sake of larger public health goals.

Universities have set aside research and funding concerns and focused on the well-being of students and the public by moving classes online and canceling or postponing public events. All of this activity has been coordinated not by a central national government authority, but by a shared aspiration toward the common good that is guiding voluntary decisions of local individuals and institutions. That is the miracle of freedom in action, and while it does happen outside the United States, it is a uniquely American thing to do.

As we all mourn those whose lives have been prematurely ended by COVID-19, and worry about the well-being of those who may yet be infected, we can also recognize that this crisis is reminding us of what America truly is. America is a country that accomplishes great things at national and state levels not when centralized government power takes action, but when the American people and their local institutions act in pursuit of the common good in a way that rises above what divides us.

As Utahns and Americans navigate the future response to this pandemic, we should learn the lessons that it teaches us about who we are and who we should be. Then we should apply them to other areas of our politics and private lives where, at present, division is undermining America’s greatness.

And if you want to cut through the hysteria with a clear-headed, reasonable analysis of the coronavirus epidemic, I suggest reading the full USA Today editorial board Q&A with Dr. Gottlieb.

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