Certainly, no person has the right to knowingly deprive another person of their life by infecting them with a potentially deadly virus. However, since we don’t have adequate testing for people to know if they carry the infection asymptomatically, we have the risk that people may unknowingly spread the virus. The issue boils down to this question: Will people behave sensibly to protect themselves and their fellow citizens, or does virtually the entire population need to be locked down by the government to protect us all from those who would potentially act irresponsibly?
We have not had access to any data to quantify the risk of asymptomatic transmission, until the recent Navy study that tested the entire 4,800 crew of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, and found that 60% of the 600 positive tests have shown no symptoms. Up until this point, testing has only been conducted on those with symptoms. This data could mean that the death rate is only 40% of what is being used in the models.
A natural experiment is being conducted in Europe. Sweden’s approach is based on, “the public’s self-restraint and sense of responsibility.” They shut high schools and colleges, but left elementary schools, restaurants, ski slopes and borders open. The outcomes, so far, are pretty similar to nearby Denmark, which has embraced shutdowns. A month into this natural experiment, Sweden has 14,777 cases of Covid-19 out of a population of 10.2 million, representing 1.4 cases per thousand. In comparison, Denmark has 7,515 cases with a population of 5.8 million representing 1.3 cases per thousand.
The costs of the mandated shutdown are becoming readily apparent to all of us. A partial list includes mental health, hunger, evictions, homelessness, lost jobs, businesses closed forever and lost retirement savings. In short, the destruction of our economy and the shattering of the American Dream.
If our governors trusted the people to act reasonably – to keep social distancing, wear masks in public, use common sense about what activities are safe to conduct, what businesses are safe to open, and implement strong protections for our vulnerable populations — we could limit the immense costs of our forced quarantine.
The First Amendment provides us the right to peaceably assemble and the 14th states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” The bar for abridging our constitutional rights should be very high indeed. Now that we finally have the information to understand how COVID-19 spreads, it is time for our government to start trusting the people.
James Miller, a resident of Lyme, is a retired investment banker.