Opinion: An affront to American democracy or a necessary decision?
Updated: Apr 13
“Stay home, stay safe and keep your distance.”
Those are the precautions ringing through ears all across the United States as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases extends to over 400,000 Americans, exceeding any other country including Italy and China.
Despite school, business and recreational closures from coast to coast to help curve the spread of the virus, self-quarantine remains an optional or circumstantial preventative measure for many Americans depending on their state.
While 22 states are currently abstaining from taking any executive action to enforce quarantine, the other 28 operating under “shelter-in-place” orders still permit residents to leave their homes for “necessary business” using essential services -- a category of exemption subjectively decided by individual states, allowing some residents to go as far as attending religious services despite CDC and federal health guidelines.
If the U.S. continues to rely on mildly-enforced self-quarantine and social distancing as it approaches the peak of coronavirus cases and subsequent deaths, society may remain stagnant until a vaccine is developed. This developmental process could take “at best” a year to a year and a half, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci.
The question remains of whether a stricter, nation-wide preventative strategy would prove more effective in evading the White House’s projected 200,000 American casualties. To answer, one may analyze China’s success in its methods of containment in the Hubei province of Wuhan, COVID-19’s ground zero.
China first alerted the World Health Organization on Dec. 31 of the “unusual pneumonia” contracted by several employees of the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city of Wuhan.
As the number of infections and the death rate increased exponentially, Wuhan and other areas of the Hubei province imposed a mandatory lockdown, quarantining nearly 36 million people. Residents were prohibited from leaving the city, leaving their homes, attending schools and accessing public transportation. Delivery services were greatly utilized to access food and other necessities.
After the restrictions went into effect in the Hubei province starting mid-January, China began to experience its highest rates of COVID-19 cases, skyrocketing from a reported 574 cases on Jan. 22 to more than 15,000 reported on Feb. 12, totalling over 80,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,000 deaths with Wuhan taking the hardest hit.
Fortunately for China, those numbers significantly decreased after two months of mandatory quarantine, with daily case reports staying below 200 for almost the entire month of March. China reported zero new domestic-based cases for nearly a week towards the end of March, while Wuhan only reported one.
China’s success in the “people’s war” against the coronavirus outbreak has convinced officials to partially ease the lockdown in the Hubei province, including Wuhan, lifting travel restrictions for those virus-free and certified with a Hubei health green code.
China’s ability to surmount the peak of the virus less than two months after implementing the strict lockdown is not just a result of aggressive governmental efforts, but it’s also due in part to residents’ adherence to the containment guidelines -- proving that the efficacy of any preventative measure in any country is dependent on the participation of its people.
But the line between essential and nonessential travel in the U.S. is almost entirely left up to state and local governments, enabling many citizens to continue leaving their homes for nonessential businesses and services.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who previously refused to impose a statewide lockdown, was under fire for leaving social distancing restrictions up to the decisions of the counties. He also argued for Florida’s beaches to remain open.
President Donald Trump continues to dismiss the possibility of a nationwide shutdown, focusing more on cushioning the economic impacts of COVID-19’s outbreak.
Many Americans, including Fauci, believe that President Trump enacting a national lockdown or shelter-in-place order is not a feasible action under the Constitution, unless the federal government provides evidentiary support to the courts to prove that a federally-imposed quarantine is necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19. Until that initiative is taken, such decisions are in the state and local government’s hands.
But is the necessary evidence not self-evident already?
Allowing protective measures to be subjectively decided by individual states during the height of a pandemic provides entirely too much leeway for citizens to ignore federal health guidelines based on the leniency of their state’s policies. It’ll be a slow and fatal process trying to cease transmission-based COVID-19 cases with half of Americans staying home and others operating within the loopholes of their state’s emergency procedures.
The American initiative right now should be curbing the spread of the virus; doing so requires collective participation in a single preventative measure that saves medical researchers time and potential resources needed to develop a vaccine.
With COVID-19 taking nearly two weeks to show symptoms in its host, confirmed case numbers will always be two weeks behind. As seen in the Hubei province, having an executive order to keep residents indoors gives those who unknowingly contracted the virus two weeks to develop symptoms while eliminating the risk of further transmission.
Limiting the amount of daily confirmed case numbers by staying indoors provides more time and resources to be dedicated towards vaccine development, as opposed to overflowing hospitals.
But if the U.S.continues to head for the worst of the virus with this level of indifference, will video conferences and toilet paper shortages be our new reality until a vaccine is created?
Will our projected mortality rates secure the U.S. as the virus epicenter? Or would we submit to travel restrictions and stay home for the sake of American lives?
These are all questions only the future can answer, but they must be asked.
By Haley Hartner