Opinion: During the Pandemic, Keep Calm and Carry On

As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, Americans are eager for a return to normalcy. And we should be: For months, our lives have been disrupted by a virus whose deadliness has been exaggerated.

Ever since the World Health Organization pegged the COVID-19 fatality rate at 3.4 percent, uncertainty gave way to anxiety, fear and paranoia. People worried about the second coming of the Spanish Flu.

Let’s be clear: Reality is far more optimistic. In 1918, the Spanish Flu brought a fatality rate of more than 2.5 percent, infecting one-third of the world’s population and killing as many as 100 million people. Fast forward to today, and the COVID-19 fatality rate is 0.26 percent. Globally, about 800,000 people infected by the coronavirus have passed away.

Every death is a tragedy. But 800,000 is still a far, far cry from 100 million. In my home state of West Virginia, for example, there have been fewer than 10,000 cases, and fewer than 200 people have died. Perspective still matters and we can’t allow hysteria to cloud the facts. Most states, especially rural ones, are coping with the coronavirus remarkably well.

Fortunately, many states have not adopted the strict lockdowns that we’ve seen in certain parts of the country. In West Virginia, people are not being fined for drinking at a bar or going to church. And, unlike some countries, states like West Virginia are not using wearable tracking devices to enforce quarantine rules. Such mandates are a direct threat to individual liberty.

And we need to keep it that way. The coronavirus still poses a threat, but it’s not evenly dispersed across demographic groups. The elderly and those with underlying health conditions are especially vulnerable. But 99 percent of Americans shouldn’t worry about imminent death after taking a stroll through the park with friends or dining at a restaurant.

Just because a select few are especially vulnerable does not mean that the vast majority of us should suffer. For the sake of mental health, life must go on as normally as possible. I’m a medical professional and I fear the short- and long-term repercussions of societal lockdowns that treat the elderly and school-age children the same. Their respective risk profiles are simply not in the same ballpark, so a one-size-fits-all approach lacks sense.

Looking ahead, we must continue to be rational and logical in our response to a novel virus. As West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has suggested, wearing masks is still important. Whenever and wherever possible, we must continue to practice social distancing. Attending gatherings with 50 people is unwise.

At the same time, we must uphold individual liberty. For instance, Justice has always been careful to distinguish between mandates and guidelines, emphasizing that even stay-at-home orders are not “lockdowns.” Recommending social distancing does not and should not equate to martial law.

Rural states like West Virginia are not Los Angeles or New York City. There is more open space, so life can remain closer to normal in those states. If applied, government mandates need to be carried out on a case-by-case basis. There should be no “national mandate.”

Those who support the strictest of lockdowns anywhere and everywhere are simply uninformed. Those who oppose the reopening of schools are falling into a similar trap.

Americans need to simply keep calm and carry on. We will get through this.

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