What Just Happened?

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Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.

Thomas Paine

After months of pandemic, lockdown, and the surreality foisted upon us by the coronavirus and associated reactions, we were going to enjoy lunch inside an actual restaurant. Finally, we were returning to some sense of normalcy. As we walked in, we were greeted by mask-wearing staff with a muffled “hello” and “how many today?” I smiled as I said “two” and she turned to grab menus and…an infrared thermometer?

Brandishing what looked like a phaser from the original Star Trek, she waved the device in front of me as her eyebrows arched quizzically to query assent to the probe, a question I realized was rhetorical as she proceeded to point the temperature gun at my forehead. Before I could even fully grasp the situation, she was smiling an “all clear” and leading us to our table.

A Bridge Too Far

What just happened? Sitting down, I felt slightly queazy and quite troubled. We spent a few minutes looking at each other, trying to get our heads around the moment. I realized that I felt completely violated by the encounter. Then wondered, should I be? Was it reasonable to take my temperature before letting me into the restaurant? Is this the “new normal” everyone keeps talking about?

Watching the hosts proceed to point that infrared gun at the head of every patron entering the restaurant, I decided we had crossed into territory with which I was quite uncomfortable. This was a bridge too far – an overreach that, in my mind, exceeded reasonableness. Knowing their intentions were a sincere effort to maintain a safe environment, I left it alone. However, I will not return until that practice goes away.

The world has begun to reopen. Last week, I made my first trip via airplane since February. The airports were pretty quiet, reminding me of the days after 9/11. However, signs of life were present as a few shops were open, fewer planes were full of travelers, and people were tentatively adjusting to being around others and the inconveniences adopted in the name of safety (masks, social distancing, etc.).

How Far Will We Go?

What are we willing to accept as we begin to emerge from our lockdowns? Masks are uncomfortable and inconvenient but they seem to make people feel better. There is much talk of “contact tracing” and its necessity to fight the disease. Hope remains for a vaccine but along with its development have come calls to require proof of immunity. In the name of efficiency, some of those calls include some way to “mark” those who have immunity. Are we ok with this?

Meanwhile, the media has begun efforts to re-energize concern about the pandemic with alarming headlines of increasing infection rates. A headline trend that is likely to stay in place for the remainder of the year. Or at least until the next dramatic event occurs.

How far will it go? How much will we accept? In the name of safety, we allowed ourselves to be locked-down. Local officials determined essential and non-essential businesses. Schools were closed. Parks were closed. Cities were closed. In a matter of weeks, our streets and shelves were emptied as we retreated, social distanced, and “flattened the curve” in an attempt to mitigate potential waves of patients flooding hospitals as the infection spread.

But the waves never came. The original models driving decisions were found to be incorrect on nearly all fronts. We overreacted. I get it, imperfect data, imperfect decisions. We learn, we move on. But are we moving on?

Freedom is a fragile thing. We’ve watched our country get turned upside down in just a few months. In the name of safety, we gave up many liberties and accepted dictates from our leaders with little question. With the next “wave,” how much more are we willing to give up?

Tremble at the Thought

Thinking back to that unnerving feeling I had when that temperature gun was pointed at my head, I tremble at the thought that someone may force me to prove immunity before I can eat at their restaurant, fly in their airplane, stay in their hotel, enter their stadium, or enter their house. I wonder, where does it end? Once we start tracking the movements of someone with COVID-19, what else will someone decide is good to track in the name of public safety? What else might we have to prove immunity to in order to function normally within our society?

Right now, we seem to hear nothing but loud voices. There are plenty of them. We need calm and measured responses to the challenges facing us. Today, we are getting hammered at the extremes. Political extremes, scientistic extremes, and social extremes. Everyone wants a safe environment in which to exist. Everyone wants freedom to live their lives. The challenge is to balance safety and freedom appropriately and rationally.

Here are some questions to ask yourself this week: what am I seeing with my own eyes? Walk out your door, down your street, and across your city. What are you seeing? Does it mirror the headlines? As you begin to emerge from quarantine, what impositions are you willing to accept on your freedoms? Knowing that there are dangers out there, how far are you willing to limit your life in order to avoid them? How much are you willing to let someone else dictate your safety?

Calm and Measured

Calm and measured. Look for it. Seek the voices of reason and hope. It is ok to question the assumptions. It is ok to question our leaders. It is ok to disagree with their conclusions. It is ok give voice to your expectations, hopes, and fears. It is ok to question the “experts.” We need to keep thinking and keep questioning. Mostly, it is ok to voice discomfort with the impositions on your freedom. By thinking, questioning, and sharing, we are more likely to find the best path. Let’s keep trying.

Showing 3 comments
  • Jaime Borkowski

    I see your point with violations of freedom, but I will say that I disagree with your comment about the flattening of the curve and how the wave never came. You never know if you did too much, because if you did it right, you prevented the problem from occurring at all; the concern is that if you do too little, everyone pays the price. I agree there needs to be some sort of balance, but please don’t think that it was all for naught–millions of lives were saved by staying at home. I will tell you that from the front lines of a place that wasn’t as lucky as other places that didn’t see the wave.

    • Phillip Berry

      Thank you for your comment Jaime. My post was not intended to minimize the pain of loss from COVID-19 or suggest that some areas weren’t hit harder than others. However, I don’t believe that millions of lives were saved by lockdowns. We reacted to a legitimate fear of the unknown but the models driving the reaction were inaccurate and the lockdowns quantifiably threatened the livelihood of millions. Was there a viable middle ground response? I don’t know – I think best efforts were made with good intentions and minimal information. My bigger concern is how quickly we accepted the dictates without much question and how draconian some of them became. Perhaps we’ll have more complete answers over time. I appreciate your perspective and am always happy to discuss.

  • Jaime Borkowski

    Yes, grasping for answers resulted in use of many unfounded therapies initially, as well (hydroxychloroquine, to name one) that was later found to be unhelpful and possibly dangerous. It has been a very strange time. Lots of articles coming out early in the rush to get the data out before they were peer reviewed, adoption of practices that weren’t backed by data (as above–and we were guilty of it, too, in our struggle to find something that might help our patients), poor research design. It’s the same situation in the operational handling of it. Hind site is 20/20,though, and we will look back and see what we should have/have not done. It’ll be interesting to see. I wish it wasn’t all so politicized-this is something that everyone should be working on together; it shouldn’t be a matter of blame but of how do we improve what we’re doing to ultimately help the patients and help society get back on its feet.

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