The moral and medical question of ‘why still have a lockdown?’
“Operation Nevada,” a local initiative, is planning to protest the state-wide partial lockdown by gathering in Carson City tomorrow, May 2. Their red and blue poster with megaphones, a shock of flares and spelling mistake say something about the nature of the initiative: poor execution of a half-baked idea.
They are calling it “the big one.” What’s “big” here? It’s a plan to drive by the Capitol campus and gather at a nearby mall south of the building to demand reopening of businesses and the state at large. The attendees are advised to be kind and “cutious” [sic]. They are predicting that the gathering would feature “everyone from every group,” coming from “every city and county in Nevada.”
Currently, there’s a restriction in place on gatherings of more than 10 people. In his press briefing yesterday, Governor Steve Sisolak charted out his plans for reopening the state in phases. Nevadans have diligently followed the Centers for Disease Control guidelines so far, resulting in the state’s low infection rate of COVID-19. But as people get into the first phase of gradual reopening, patience is running thin among many. What decision are we going to make next? Should Nevadans continue to follow the guidelines or toss it all away?
Where Nevada stands?
The infection rate in Nevada has been among the second lowest rate of infection in the country. Timely intervention, clear communication from the top that took note of evolving information from doctors and scientists, and low population density have helped the state—which shares borders with two of the states, California and Arizona, reporting some of the highest rates of infection.
Nevadans have shown an exceptional level of solidarity within the community in helping each other out through these hard times by adhering to social distancing, wearing masks and working remotely. Workers at the grocery stores have showed up, often risking their own health, to keep the state functioning. As the reopening happens in phases, doctors, scientists and administrators stay worried for the safety of people. There have been cases of repeat infection in other parts of the world once the economy opened in China, Japan and South Korea.
However, protesters are choosing not to believe science and facts. On April 18, under the “Operation Nevada” banner, people gathered in Las Vegas and Carson City, their anger and frustration directed at Governor Sisolak and the lockdown. “Battle Born doesn’t mean hide at home,” said a sign held by a lady with a crimson hat. Another called Sisolak an “economy killer.”
There’s plenty of reason to criticize a gathering out in the open during a lockdown. But it is fact that Nevadans and Americans are concerned for their future and well being. Yet, the current situation is much more complicated, and it calls for an informed discussion on what is right during a pandemic and how to make that decision.
That’s why News & Review got in touch with experts who know a lot about the topic and are willing to share it with Nevadans.
The question of individual freedom vs. public safety
According to Dr. Trudy Larson, from the state’s Medical Advisory Team, the guidelines for how to behave during a pandemic are extremely clear. The individual right versus public safety is decided by a focus on public safety because it is fundamental to public health.
“The Supreme Court has been very clear on this,” she said. “There are many circumstances where public good will opt over individual rights. The messaging is very clear on this. You can infect your grandmother. If she gets it, you might have to negotiate with hospitals where nobody would prefer to be at the moment. So, it’s really looking at it like my family is the public.”
Not everyone agrees, though. “I just want to fish,” read one writing on the back of a car in the Vegas gathering on April 18. Many of these protesters are saying they are worried because their freedom of choice and movement, the bedrock of America’s libertarian ideology, is at stake.
Dr. Emily K Hobson, professor at the University of Nevada, Reno and a U.S. historian who specializes in social activism, isn’t convinced that Libertarianism or economic hardship alone is driving people on the streets.
“I agree with broad concerns over civil liberties,” she said. “We have seen that people of color, low-income groups, who are already heavily policed, are under scrutiny. We know from our experience of working with HIV AIDS that criminalization is not the way to help with a public health crisis. Arresting people for not wearing or wearing a mask, turning to the police to enforce social distancing will not help. But I am not sure this is the reason why the protesters are protesting.”
“If you look at their signs, it’s about the frustration of not being able to access ordinary products of the economy, access personal care services. For example, I see signs, ‘I wanna haircut!’ I mean sure!” Hobson laughed, “But, you can wait.”
The politics of protest during a pandemic
On the website of “Operation Nevada,” the organizers identify themselves as “independents”. The petitioners, however, were seen sporting MAGA hats, Trump 2020 flags, anti-immigration posters. One of the posters in the Vegas rally said COVID-19 is a “Psy Op”, an abbreviation of “Psychological Operation.” “This is a hoax by the democratic party to derail Trump’s economy”, read a comment on the Facebook page of “Operation Nevada.”
According to Hobson, the protesters are combining their general political attitude and frustration under the lockdown with “a general suspicion of science and expertise that … has a longstanding history on the Right. There is also a suspicion that any kind of coordinated state response is about redistributing resources toward poor people and people of color.”
The moral choice and medical necessity
Increasingly, following the health-related guidelines is looking like a moral choice as well as a medical necessity. They are joined at the hip. It will be impossible to discard one without compromising another. And, like most moral decisions, making the right decision needs some soul searching.
Dr. Steven C. Hayes, Foundation Professor of the Psychology Department at UNR and an eminent American psychologist said, “I want to ask people, ‘If you are getting out and that gives the infection to others, how’s that your personal freedom?’ I want to ask the protesters have they really thought about their choices. … Choice is like voluntarily entering into the flow of events. When you can control, you do control and what you don’t, you let go of in a way that reflects your values. You are relinquishing your control to be able to travel freely go to a sporting event for example because it serves a greater good.”
He shared an effective tool for people to stay on the course a little longer: “Be kind to yourself. By kind, I mean be open to your experience—to let go of harsh judgments. Allow yourself to grieve, to what’s coming. We are going to lose money, job, others may lose family members. It’s scary! Things are going to happen. If you are going to live long enough, life is alone going to give you those things. If you have a kid in the room who says, ‘It’s hard,’ you wouldn’t say, ‘Shut up!’ You would say, ‘You know this is hard for me, too.’ Do this to yourself.”
It appears what America and the whole world is experiencing is a moment of choice, not a lack of it. It’s a test of personal values.
“I want to ask people, ‘Why are you doing this? What’s your value in following the lockdown and health measures for the virus?’” said Hayes. “This is a pain in the rear end for me and everybody, but I am willing to do this because I may inadvertently harm someone if I may go out and maybe I am asymptomatic and pass it on. I’m not staying home because I’m frightened; I’m staying home because I care.”