There is no good reason for the lockdowns to continue. There wasn’t a good reason for them to begin in the first place, but almost everything we have learned in the last two months has made the truth inescapably clear. Over 33 million people have been put out of work. Many businesses have been driven to the brink, or over the edge, of bankruptcy. Our economy teeters near collapse. And all of this, not to prevent deaths or stop the virus, but to merely delay the inevitable moment when we have to figure out how to live in spite of it.
For most of us, the risk of returning to our jobs and our lives is very low. The virus primarily victimizes the old and the infirm, which is why it has had a hugely disproportionate impact on nursing homes. As I wrote yesterday, in many states and countries, nursing homes account for more than half of all COVID-19 fatalities. When you add the elderly who are not in nursing homes, and people with pre-existing conditions, it becomes evident that young and healthy people are very unlikely to die from the disease or be hospitalized because of it. This doesn’t mean we should cavalierly throw aside all precautions and safety measures, but it does mean that there is no good reason, and was never any good reason, for most of us to stay locked in our homes. The threat level for us is quite low, and we should be allowed to take that risk if we wish.
But this brings us to an important point. It has been repeatedly argued that even the young and healthy cannot be allowed to go back to their jobs and reclaim their lives because they might spread it to people who are not in that category. Also, what about people – healthy or not – who don’t want to take the risk? Is it fair that they should have the risk foisted on them? I say no, it is not fair. Which is why I would be against forcing anyone to leave their homes or go to work. And the good thing is that nobody, to my knowledge, has advocated such a policy. The way it is portrayed by the pro-lockdown crowd, you would think the anti-lockdown crowd wants to mandate that everyone leave their homes. But we are in favor of no such mandate, and have not proposed one.
This, to me, seems rather simple. If you want to remain in your home, that’s fine. Stay there as long as you like. You need not worry about everyone else spreading it to you if you are still hiding behind locked doors. You only risk exposure if you leave your home. But, again, if you don’t want to leave your home, don’t. Only those who choose to take the risk should take it. And there is no reason why I should be prevented from taking the risk just because you don’t want to take it. If you are still shelling in your house, my risk is of no consequence to you. What happened to personal autonomy? What happened to being pro-choice? Let me make my choices, and you make yours.
A common counter argument to this plan is this: if many people get back to work, and businesses open again, then some of the people who want to stay locked down might be compelled by their employers to come back to their jobs. These people might be in a position, then, of losing their jobs if they decide to remain in lockdown while millions of other Americans try to get the economic engines humming again. This strikes me as an ironic and hypocritical concern. After all, if you are pro-lockdown, then you believe that 33 million lost jobs is a price worth paying. Indeed, you have probably even scolded the people worried about losing their jobs for “putting money before human life.” But now that you stand to lose your own job, suddenly job loss is a problem? 33 million unemployed people isn’t enough to justify opening the economy, but one lost job – yours – is enough to justify keeping it closed? Do you see why this line of reasoning is not particularly endearing or persuasive?
People who have pre-existing conditions that put them at a high risk from COVID-19 should be accommodated and provided for so the they can remain home. The elderly – most of whom aren’t working anyway – should of course remain quarantined. But the young and healthy ought to be given the option to return to work. If any young and healthy person wants to stay home indefinitely, they are free to make that choice. I don’t think we should subsidize that choice, but then, again, these are the people who like to preach about the superfluousness of financial concerns during a time like this. They will forgive me, then, for taking them at their word. If, however, their financial concerns are not superfluous, then they might decide that it’s worth it to get back out into the world. And that is a decision they should have the power to make. Let everyone figure out their own priorities, their own needs, their own acceptable level of risk, and take whatever path they choose.