Perplexing Measures Prompted by COVID-19

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Photo Courtesy of Jason Connolly / AFP – Getty Images

Demonstrators gather in front of the Colorado State Capitol building to protest coronavirus stay-at-home orders during a “Reopen Colorado” rally in Denver on Sunday, April 19, 2020.

By Kevin Hartung

I have heard some very unusual stories regarding measures of social distancing being implemented by the stay-at-home mandates. While some make me laugh, others make me question their legality.

Americans facing the fear of COVID-19 have selflessly given up freedoms to assure the outbreak is confined and ends quickly. They deserve recognition for their efforts. Still, there are some that want to push the envelope.

For instance, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has incessantly added to stay-at-home measures which have sparked demonstrations across the USA. An article from the Goldwater Institute criticized Whitmer’s policies.

The article states that Whitmer’s orders are wide-ranging, confusing, contradictory, and ever-evolving. Non-essential workers must remain home. Family members are prohibited from visiting other family members. Property owners are banned from traveling to vacation homes — and if they’re already at their vacation home, they are prohibited from returning to their primary residence. Violations of the stay-at-home order are subject to a new $1,000 civil fine, which is on top of criminal punishment with a $500 fine and 90 days in jail.

“As I’ve said, we are seeking voluntary compliance as much as possible, especially given how new that particular prohibition is for the public,” Ed Golder, the Public Information Officer with the Department of Natural Resources. He made it clear that warnings were issued and compliance was generally forthcoming, but citations will be issued when compliance is not voluntary.

Without question, sensible measures to control the spread are imperative for protecting the wellbeing of all Americans. Still, due vigilance, lest we suffer from a military state, is the right of every American. Protestors should not be vilified for retaliation in the face of their fears of overextension by government officials in a time of crisis.

Again, the ugly head of divisiveness and separation is raised. Perhaps because of unceasing change in the mandates or the unspecified length of time they remain in place, American citizens are pushing back. The keyword here is “citizens,” because we are all citizens of this “free” nation.

Unaccustomed to the legal force behind mandates, some Americans want clarity on what constitutes the privilege of being an American and what is the obligation of being an American. Herein lies the conflict between government overreach and citizen pushback.

Candace Owen, a political commentator and activist, after attempting to conform to social-distancing measures became incensed on April 14, by what appeared to her to be an overreach by officials. She complied with social distancing. She stood in line to buy groceries, keeping 6 feet from the next person, while each person in and each person out was counted. 

However, when she was told that she could not enter the store because she was not wearing a facial mask that she did not own, her composure broke. She took to her Twitter account in a tirade that pleaded for sanity. “Why am I being punished because of your fears? If you are afraid, you stay at home,” she said.

Clarity on overextension is needed now and for the future. The freedom of whether we have the right to regulate our bodies and our environments or whether that belongs to the government is at stake. Can the government prevent us from seeing our families? Can the government insist we wear apparel that we do not own as in the case of Owen? Can the government isolate us from our school, healthcare, and entertainment systems, and if so, for how long?

Americans have a right to question compulsory restrictions on their freedoms. Otherwise, why do we have the First Amendment? How do we hold our government accountable? Freedom is the hallmark of an open society. Compliance must be self-determined based on our knowledge of the threat. 

Equally important is assuring that our children value this right. Children who today are instructed by parents to wear face masks or stay indoors must understand that measures that exceed the government’s authority should not only be questioned but, when necessary, fought against.

Government officials tell us that in the face of emergencies they are within their rights as defenders of our well-being to extend their authority.

Civil discourse is the answer here. Surely, we can meet on common ground. We are not enemies. We are facing a crisis that replicates worldwide. If official mandates are necessary, then they must be uniform for all and in the least restrictive environment possible. 

Dissemination of information is equally important. Mandate measures should wait until the facts are in. Mandates must be based on the concrete knowledge we possess and should only be factually restricting and not based on unsubstantiated fears nor should they be ever-changing.

Determinations for mandates must be analyzed by parties with legal knowledge and prior experience. Those with the expertise of constitutional lawmakers and, in this case, healthcare professionals.

It may not always be the case that our health is at stake: there may come a time when our nation’s security is at stake. Then, as now, American citizens will be asked to acquiesce to mandates that while restrictive are in the best interests of our nation.

As it has always been, the state of the world remains precarious. We have won home front wars (Revolutionary and Civil wars) against injustices toward American citizens. We have fought wars over the denial of human rights in other countries. As a nation, we survived. 

As a nation, we may frequently be asked to extend ourselves on the side of right versus wrong, protection and safety versus self-interest, and personal freedoms versus government overreach. We must not flinch from open and honest communication in those times. Our combined intellect should not be insulted by the discourse of opposing forces.

Disasters should unite us, not further alienate us from each other. We share this planet. Our efforts should be directed toward its preservation and the perpetuation of a free global society.

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