How and why did politics enter the discussion of public health and safety?
Consider the rally that took place this past weekend in Kingston. The Fourth of July event was organized by an organization called Occupy Peace, which says it opposes coronavirus-related restrictions imposed by government leaders.
“The nation is locked down in fear by politicians who, by Executive Order – not laws – have imposed draconian rules that have destroyed millions of businesses and lives,” read the press release announcing the event. “The Rally is to celebrate the true meaning of the American spirit of Liberty, Love, Joy and Beauty… and that All People are Created Equal.”
Organizers said it was more than just a one-day rally: “we are devising an action plan to restore our rights that have been taken away from us.”
The Kingston rally came just hours after a grand spectacle of a campaign rally for President Trump at Mount Rushmore, complete with 4th of July fireworks. The event drew thousands of unmasked supporters, none of whom were heeding the warnings about social distancing. It’s become a rallying point for the President’s conservative base that opposes mandates to wear masks and practice social distancing and restrictions of personal freedom.
But the upswing in many cases where restrictions have been eased in the past month is frightening. Just last month, Montgomery Mayor and State Senate Candidate L. Stephen Brescia, appearing on a conservative talk show, praised the governors of Florida and Texas for their handling of the pandemic while criticizing Governor Andrew Cuomo for allowing senior citizens to return to nursing homes after being discharged from the hospital. Now, though, numbers of Coronavirus cases in Florida and Texas are spiking as New York new cases decline.
Both Florida and Texas reported their biggest daily rise in new confirmed cases over the past few days, with the former reporting 11,443 new resident cases on Saturday and another 9,999 on Sunday, according to NPR. Texas reported a record 8,258 new cases on Saturday, followed by 3,449 on Sunday. California reported 5,410 new cases on Sunday, and Arizona reported 3,536 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday. Brescia, meanwhile, drew criticism from at least one constituent for appearing in public last week without wearing a mask. (See Letters to the Editor).
“I will tell you, a month ago one in 10 people were testing positive. Today, it’s one in four,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told CBS. “The number of people who are getting sick and going to the hospitals has exponentially increased. The number of people in our [intensive care unit] beds has exponentially increased. In fact, if we don’t get our hands around this virus quickly, in about two weeks our hospital system could be in serious, serious trouble.”
It is a deadly illness that, to date, has claimed nearly 130,000 lives and infected more than 2.8 million Americans. Why not exercise some practical caution, especially if it spares the life of a loved one or two?
It’s true that mandating the wearing of masks in public restricts our civil rights. So, too, does requiring us to use seatbelts in the car and preventing us from smoking in public places. Yet few of us complain about those restrictions.
Political divisions over COVID-19 restrictions seems to be an American thing. In Europe as well as Canada, citizens heed the caution of medical experts who warn that this is far from over.
We need to be vigilant and practical. Recklessness will only make the situation worse.