As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, America’s collective willpower is being tested like never before. So-called “pandemic fatigue” has set in, with federal, state, and local government restrictions nearing their one-year anniversary.
According to U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, “You’ve had people who’ve been doing these things since February, March, April, but they didn’t really start to see the wave until later on. And they’re just plain tired.” Nearly 60 percent of Americans are now willing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, the mass distribution of which will signal the logical endpoint of said government restrictions (fingers crossed).
In the meantime, we must remain vigilant. Succumbing to pandemic fatigue does nothing to expedite its conclusion. Heeding the advice of elected officials, it makes sense to continue wearing masks and socially distancing, if possible. Huddling in crowded spaces does not make sense. Most people understand that: 85 percent of Americans regularly wear face coverings in stores and other businesses. Meanwhile, “six feet apart” has become the unwritten law of the land.
But, in order to “do their part,” Americans need to maintain confidence in the elected officials who demand their cooperation. In the age of COVID-19, collective action is a social contract: If the citizenry is to play by the rules, those rules need to be grounded in common sense. Those in power have a responsibility to serve their constituents in good faith, or they risk undermining trust in government writ large.
Unfortunately, too many elected officials have fallen into the trap of needlessly curtailing individual liberties for the sake of “doing something”—whether that “something” is grounded in evidence or not. Too many government restrictions are nonsensical, eroding the people’s faith in the public sector and even triggering open backlash that diminishes our pandemic response. Here are three of the most egregious examples:
- In California, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti banned outdoor dining in a city with warm weather year-round, even when restaurants comply with social distancing measures. If the goal is to balance economic and public-health considerations, why take away the restaurant industry’s last chance of survival? Why prevent people from eating out in a low-risk environment?
- In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker ordered people to wear masks at all times in public, even when social distancing is possible. As Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, explained, “There’s really no reason to be wearing a mask when you’re outdoors and you’re not close to anyone.” Why punish people for walking down an empty street, when they’re not spreading the coronavirus?
- In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown threatened state residents with 30 days imprisonment or fines up to $1,250 (if not both) for hosting Thanksgiving gatherings of seven people or more. Questions abound: Why set criminal activity at seven people, and not five or six? Why not cancel Black Friday shopping then? Why uninvite your brother, but not your parents?
For the record, I am no public health expert, but excessively restrictive mandates like these do not pass the “common sense” test. I struggle to understand how they are mandated in good faith. This is not to say that government action is entirely unnecessary during a pandemic. To the contrary, even critics of government lockdowns still support “focused protection,” shielding the most at-risk populations from COVID-19 transmission.
With pandemic fatigue setting in, elected officials must be even more mindful of government overreach. Making an already heavy hand even more burdensome, for no apparent gain, only increases the chances of silent protest and loud resistance—for better or worse. Nor does hypocrisy (see here or here) help the situation: Talking the talk, but refusing to walk the walk, is bad-faith politicking. “Rules for thee, but not for me” is the unofficial mantra of bad-faith politicians. Americans deserve better.
With mass distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine still months away, now is the time for us all to practice common sense. Democrat or Republican, we must continue to act in good faith. Otherwise, pandemic fatigue will become a pandemic in itself.
Catalyst articles by Luka Ladan