The War on COVID Takes the Torch from the War on Terror

By Aaron Bergh

On Mar. 19, 2020, Governor Newsom mandated that all Californians shelter-at-home and completely closed thousands of businesses, including mine. Omniscient experts presented scientific charts of bell curves illustrating that if we quarantined at home for just fifteen days, we could prevent a catastrophe in our hospitals. I accepted that this sacrifice was part of my patriotic duty to protect fellow Americans from a deadly virus and assured myself my business would recover. I did not imagine that fifteen days would become one year – and counting. 

The seemingly endless COVID-19 restrictions have vindicated the oft-repeated notion that when we temporarily trade in our freedoms for the promise of government-provided safety, our liberty is rarely fully restored, and safety is seldom accomplished. 

After the Sept. 11 attacks, a knee-jerk reaction in the name of safety led to the hasty implementation of the PATRIOT Act. Two decades later, three presidents from both parties have continued to renew it. The FBI, NSA, and other federal agencies still use the constitutionally-dubious Act to justify warrantless searches of phone, email, and bank records or detain immigrants indefinitely. Before boarding an airliner, we’re still required to submit to invasive TSA security measures, despite evidence that they fail to detect guns and explosives.

But the freedoms we lost post-9/11 pale in comparison to the ways COVID-related ordinances have altered our lives. Mandated business closures inhibit the basic right to earn a livelihood. Indefinite shelter-at-home orders restrict the right to socialize with family and friends. In California, these restrictions don’t appear to be going away. 

Even in the face of low hospital usage, as we experienced throughout most of 2020 and are experiencing currently, restrictions in California are hardly alleviated. At best, San Luis Obispo county small businesses like mine can only operate at 25 percent capacity; some are still completely closed. Californians are still ordered to avoid gathering with friends. Although starting Apr. 15, every Californian will be eligible for vaccination, Governor Newsom announced that he will not consider allowing businesses to reopen until Jun. 15 at the earliest, and we will still be required to wear masks indefinitely.

Moral conundrums aside, a frenzied pursuit for public safety is oftentimes counterproductive. The Sept. 11 attack sadly ended the lives of 2,977 innocent Americans. However, the resulting wars have a continually rising death toll of 14,792 Americans and at least 350,000 Afghanis, Pakistanis, and Iraqis.

Although a heartbreaking 550,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19, a joint study by Harvard Medical School, John Hopkins business school, and Duke University estimates that the economic shock of the pandemic will result in 1.37 million deaths.

And much like the legislative response to 9/11, the consequences of COVID-19 restrictions have disproportionately harmed minorities and the poor. More than half of minority households experienced an income loss in 2020 and were twice as likely to miss bill payments. While high-wage workers (earning $60,000 per year or more) returned to pre-pandemic employment levels months ago, employment of low-wage workers (earning $27,000 per year or less) is still down 28 percent. School closures have unfairly hurt minorities and low-income families.

The business shutdowns forced me to permanently lay off half my staff. I struggled to balance my books for a year, but I’m still doing better than most. According to data from Yelp, 60 percent of businesses will never reopen, which will undoubtedly exacerbate the unemployment crisis.

A pandemic of violent crime, drug overdose, and suicide exploded in 2020. Last year, multiple police officers were shot on two separate occasions within half a mile of my business – an unheard-of occurrence in our small rural town of Paso Robles. The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office reports that serious crime such as murder, rape, domestic violence, and robberies increased 20 percent in 2020. This parallels the FBI’s report that homicides spiked 21 percent throughout the country – the largest one-year increase on record. The CDC attributes the 38 percent increase in opioid deaths to increased psychological and economic strife. Keeping children out of classrooms and isolated from their friends resulted in severe emotional distress. Major hospitals, like the UCSF Children’s Hospital, report that the number of children admitted for attempted suicide has doubled.

In the 2000s, Americans perpetually feared that a member of their community could spontaneously radicalize and detonate a bomb on their buses, in their stadiums, or their children’s schools. Our new invisible enemy also attacks these precious targets. But it’s important to not let our desperation for safety blind us from recognizing the negative ramifications of actions proposed by opportunistic politicians posing as saviors.

Like terrorism, COVID-19 is a real threat. We must work together to neutralize it. However, the current scorched earth strategy is as reckless as inaction. When faced with harrowing disasters like terrorist attacks and pandemics, it’s necessary to implement a holistic solution that achieves safety without sacrificing freedom that we won’t recoup. 

Aaron Bergh is an independent opinion columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email him at aaobergh@gmail.com. Bergh is the owner and distiller of Calwise Spirits Co., in Paso Robles.

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