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Community Voices: Andre Stepankowsky

Community Voices: Andre Stepankowsky

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Gov. Jay Inslee on Sunday announced a resumption of some social and business restrictions in response to the Coronavirus conflagration.

The measures are not as severe as those he imposed late last winter, when the virus’ presence was comparatively benign and Cowlitz County had not yet recorded a single case.

But for latest step backward, we can thank the COVID deniers and the many who defy face mask orders and restrictions about social gatherings in the name of personal liberty.

To those people, like the two young men without masks whom I confronted at Winco last week, your actions and constant caviling have forced us into retreat. The state has now has been forced to re-impose measures to control the virus, and those restrictions will again hurt businesses, workers and families.

Don’t blame the governor. Blame his critics and virus deniers for the resurgence of the disease.

Health authorities had warned for months about the potential for another wave of infections this fall. Business leaders, too, also urged the public to honor the rules or we’d be shut down again.

Yet, incredibly, officials including Cowlitz County Commissioner Arne Mortensen and state Rep. Jim Walsh continued to call for an easing of social distancing mandates. And outgoing President Donald Trump had the audacity to downplay the virus even after spending three days in the hospital with the best care taxpayer money could buy.

The president’s failure to address COVID-19 adequately likely cost him the election. Had he done better at his sacred obligation to protect the public, he likely would have skated to a second term. Instead, he made it political and gave rein to his followers to do so, too.

Denial has become ludicrous in some cases. Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat reported Sunday that a member of the board of health in the Idaho Panhandle lectured doctors that every case of coronavirus is “a false positive.” This is lunacy — with official sanction.

Let’s be clear: Social distancing mandates work. And they are not so draconian that most of us cannot live with them, though the state and Congress do need to act further to prop up idled workers and businesses.

People who claim to be civil libertarians, who refuse to wear masks and who oppose restrictions, forget the other side of liberty.

While the critics clamor about their rights, thousands get sick and die. (The nation now has lost five times more people to the virus than it lost in the Vietnam War.)

While the naysayers clamor about their rights, businesses are closing and workers are idled because intransigence allows the disease to continue spreading.

While the doubters clamor about their rights, relatives are barred from visiting elders in nursing homes, and families must continue putting off holiday gatherings.

While the skeptics clamor about their rights, most school children are still locked out of class, and those teachers and children in attendance risk infection.

While the dismissive clamor about their rights, doctors, nurses, first responders, grocery store and other essential workers are put at risk.

While the contemptuous clamor about their rights, the medical system is stressed to the limit. Hospital beds are filling up, and the cost of treating the sick is astronomical. An economic think tank estimated that the COVID cases stemming from the Sturgis motorcycle rally in August will tally $12.2 billion in public health costs.

So much for rights, or wisdom. Much of what is good and sacred is being sacrificed on the altar of selfishness, and that attitude will just prolong the pandemic.

Government, as Thomas Jefferson pointed out, is established to protect human rights. But it also is obligated to protect the public, a duty spelled out in the Preamble to the Constitution.

The rights of the individual and the rights of society often come into conflict. That tension is apparent in the war against COVID-19. But remember this: The nation’s founders understood that there is no liberty outside the framework of a state that derives its power from an informed and knowledgeable electorate. Otherwise we’re left with dictatorship or, at the other extreme — the us-versus-them, “Lord of the Flies” tribalism that is the hideous part of the Trump legacy.

It’s time to realize that such thinking is not going to solve the COVID pandemic.

Andre Stepankowsky is former city editor of The Daily News.

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