Have We Acted Responsibly?
As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to grow and the death toll mounts, we should use our experiences so far to evaluate our personal responsibilities to each other and whether the government has met its burden in handling the crisis.
Why does this matter? Our society depends on communal efforts to improve the lives of everyone and this can’t be done unless we act responsibly. This goes for the government as well.
There is no doubt the government was not prepared for the virus outbreak in the U.S. Even though China knew about it as far back as December 2019, the government acted as if it knew nothing about the potential risk to citizens of this quick-moving virus. The result is a severe lack of testing kits, insufficient number of ventilators and concern about the number of intensive care unit hospital beds. The slow response contributed to the need for states and local governments across the country to declare a state of emergency.
The failings on the government side raise questions of competency and believability of President Trump. He has been at odds with the scientists on more than one occasion prompting Americans to wonder “Who Should We Trust?”
We have received mixed messages from our government leaders with Trump downplaying the significance of the outbreak while the scientists are saying we were not prepared and it is a serious matter. Many people rightly wonder whether Trump is being truthful with the American people. Has he lost all credibility?
Most Americans have acted responsibly with respect to how they have responded to the medical advice to wash their hands and practice social distancing. Others seem to be in panic mode and want to be tested even without the symptoms. A Tennessee man bought 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer and wipes and was selling them on Amazon for a huge markup. He is being investigated for price-gouging. And then there are those who bought enough toilet paper to last through 2020.
There are some horror stories of fights breaking out in stores like Costco, Target, Walmart and others over paper goods and hand sanitizers. An irresponsible passenger got on a Jet Blue plane while awaiting the results of a coronavirus test thereby putting all the passengers and crew at risk. He has been banned from all future Jet Blue flights.
As the virus continues to spread, we need to ask ourselves what limitations on our personal freedom we are willing to accept to minimize the spread. We have already seen virtually all sporting events shut down, Disneyland and Universal City have ceased all operations, meetings and conferences are being canceled and even Broadway went dark.
Will there be restrictions on our freedom of movement beyond avoiding large crowds? It seems so as many communities are asking folks above 65 to stay at home during the crisis. In other communities, gatherings at restaurants and bars are being sharply curtailed. I think more and more communities will do this and we may be facing a curfew.
The sad part of the story is the outbreak could have been better contained if the government acted swiftly once the first signs of community spread occurred in a nursing home in Washington State.
I also wonder what the government’s response and readiness means for a universal health care system. Do we really want the government running our health care? It's clear they have been incompetent in the current crisis.
The government has had to rely on private companies to help fight the crisis and private facilities are being used for testing. This is another indication that a fully-run government funded health care system (i.e., Medicare for all) would have lots of holes to fill.
'Exhibit A' is the government's response with respect to testing kits. It has turned to private health care facilities for testing. The diagnostics arm of Roche, a large pharmaceutical company, said they expect its specific diagnostic could fuel 400,000 tests per week.
'Exhibit B' is Google, another private company. In a Rose Garden briefing last week, Trump said that Google was developing a website that could let people evaluate their symptoms and direct them to nearby “drive through” locations for testing. "Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now," according to Trump, adding that "they have made tremendous progress. " The problem is no one seemed to tell Google. The company has since stated it will take some time to develop the project.
Would we be willing to follow the response of China and virtually close off communities and restrict free movement? I have my doubts because we are a very individualistic society and we tend to put our own self-interest first. We’re not like Asian countries that put the interests of their referent group or family unit ahead of personal interest.
We are living in a time of a “new normal.” The restrictions on our activities and physical movement should be a warning that we need to look out for each other and treat each other the way we wish to be treated, the essence of The Golden Rule. If we learn that lesson, then perhaps the coronavirus will help focus our attention on personal responsibility to ourselves and communities.
Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on March 16, 2020. Dr. Mintz recently published a book Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior that is available on Amazon. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics.