A week ago, or seven years ago in Chinese virus time, outrage struck much of America as partiers gathered in a giant pool in the Ozarks. Video of the hundreds of people frolicking, with seemingly no care about the disease produced no small amount of scolding, but also produced something else. The County of St. Louis Missouri called on attendees to quarantine for two weeks or get a Covid-19 test.
Over the past several days and nights, tens of thousands of Americans have gathered in violation of social distancing rules and prohibitions on mass gatherings to protest the brutal killing of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. Few if any people are against the protesters, the peaceful ones anyway, and their message. But will the gatherings have potentially deadly public health costs?
Up until a few days ago it would have been obvious to many that these gatherings represent a threat that needed to be addressed. This is after all why we can’t go to baseball games, church, and Broadway shows even in masks. It is certainly true that combating police violence is a worthy cause, but as we have heard ad nauseam during the lockdown, the virus is a threat like no other and must be treated as such.
If the coronavirus is still such a threat to our public health and safety that restaurants in New York City cannot open even at limited capacity then don’t we need a public health response to these protests and riots? Shouldn’t the message be that we understand how important and morally right this fight for justice is, but that still doesn’t justify putting the vulnerable at risk by allowing the protesters to go without quarantine?
Furthermore, how will these incidents impact the contact tracing that we have been assured is the secret to a safe reopening of the economy? The idea was to keep everyone separated, get everyone tested, and then trace the contacts of people who test positive. A contact in this case is exposure to someone in close quarters for over 10 minutes. How does that work now? What happens when they say, “I was in a massive crowd of tens of thousands?”
Even if many protesters are unlikely to comply with quarantine, shouldn’t we be asking them to? If it saves one life, and all that? And don’t people who made the reasonable decision that the protests were worth the risks have a responsibility to understand the risk they created and help mitigate it?
There is one other possibility, but it is one that the progressive leadership in the cities under siege will be loath to admit. Maybe, as I called for back in May in the NY Post, the lockdown and self distancing regulations are not as important as they were made out to be and should end for everyone, not just protestors and looters.
The double standards in cities like New York have been glaring. Religious Jews continue to be hassled for breaking the rules while protestors get what amounts to a total pass. Small business owners are seeing their life’s work destroyed as looters reap billions in stolen merchandise. And yes, it’s unfair, but that isn’t really the point. The point is that we are either still engaged in a public health crisis or we aren’t. And if we aren’t, then open the cities, already.
What is now is obvious to all but our political leadership class is that the lockdown is over; the protests ended them. There is no justification for our cities to exempt huge swaths of people from what they claim are life saving shut down measures because they like the political statement being made. The virus doesn’t care about politics, remember?
If the harsh regulations on operating businesses and gathering in the cities are really still needed then obviously we quickly need a plan to address the possibility of a spike in cases from these large gatherings. If not, then let us all get back to our normal lives.
If no serious measures are taken to confront the danger of potential viral spread from the protests then Americans should simply stop obeying the lockdown and open their businesses. Here’s an idea. They can do so as a political protest. Because apparently political protests are perfectly fine.