Are we our brother’s keeper in troubled times?
Weighing our duty to ourselves and others in the days of COVID-19
Sequestered in our homes against threat of COVID-19, we’re like the occupants of lifeboats around a ship foundering in mid ocean. Our chances of reaching safety unscathed appear better for being off the ship, but not guaranteed.
There are more people in the water who want to come aboard. Will they sink our boats or ride with us until we’re out of trouble? We would all be happier without these choices but we can’t turn our backs on each other.
Some of the ethical and moral dilemmas brought on by COVID-19 were put into relief on Saturday when President Donald Trump suggested he might limit travel in and out of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
With the maps of the COVID-19 density showing deep, dark red in New York City and more red radiating out as if from a bull’s-eye into the rest of New York and the neighboring states, a travel ban is certainly a thought you might have to contain this virulent virus. People who are at greater risk of being contaminated would be compelled to remain in the hot zone even though they might seek an escape to safer ground.
Putting aside any legal questions, if you were considering a federal policy to limit travel, as my neighbor pointed out, it makes sense not to say you are weighing it before it’s done. Anyone who was considering leaving the area (and undoubtedly those lucky enough to have the means would be at least thinking about it) would pack up and go before the borders were closed.
My neighbor and I imagined the suitcases getting stuffed and families being bundled into cars. Then we talked about the danger they might be exporting to areas — including ours — that so far were dodging the worst of the pandemic. Those trying to leave and those trying to block this migration and its potentially deadly consequences are balancing their civic responsibility against personal safety.
Trump decided not to issue a federal quarantine order. Even so, lots of people were already leaving COVID-19 hot spots. Stories from Martha’s Vineyard told of people with summer homes opening them long before the usual season. Massachusetts officials asked people to keep away from the islands where relatively limited health resources could be overwhelmed.
The Hartford Courant reported that vacation and rental homes in Litchfield County (the state’s upper left hand corner) and along Long Island Sound were full of outsiders seeking a refuge with more space and fewer people.
I don’t have to look that far. My Connecticut River neighborhood has a number of “second homes,” many of which are owned by New Yorkers. In the last few weeks, their lights have gone on. We know and socialize with these people. We can’t help but wonder, however, what they have brought with them and whether it will spread as they shop for food and gas or use the pharmacies. We can hope they came with two weeks worth of groceries and will spend their first 14 days in isolation with the added hope that they won’t prove infected and need our medical services.
We are all obligated to follow the best advice and keep isolated from one another as much as possible to prevent the virus from spreading. It’s a way we help each other. What’s less clear is the responsibility of those in the heart of New York City who understandably think their chances are better if they go somewhere else. Is the “right” thing for them to stay in New York to avoid the chance of carrying the virus to an uninfected place?
For those of us in places still waiting for the coronavirus wave to hit, the question is reversed. How can we not be welcoming to people fleeing the virus who have the same hope as we do of keeping ourselves and our families safe until our lifeboats find safe harbor? Wouldn’t we expect them to pull us aboard should we find ourselves in the water?
Peter B. Pach lives in the Middle Haddam section of East Hampton.
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