Dr. Jeff Kane: Public health and personal freedom | TheUnion.com

Dr. Jeff Kane: Public health and personal freedom

Remember when restaurants featured an entrance sign, “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service”? We don’t see that much anymore because shirt and shoes have become mainstream restaurant attire. Nor do we hear of barefoot people protesting violated rights when restaurants refuse to seat them.

Rules and laws appear only when manners fail. But lately I’ve begun to wonder if manners — that is, our regard for one another — are fraying. Maybe it’s my curmudgeon myopia, but I think I’m seeing people deliberately not looking out for each other. Massive current stresses are causing our inherent individualism to slowly replace our just-as-inherent civility: we Americans are generous, but don’t dare tell me what to do.

The folks who yell in Walmart and city councils that masks are useless or evil, or that vaccines carry mercury, carcinogens, or Bill Gates’ microchips are only singing the song’s lyrics. Its music, its deeper message, is that they hate being told what to do.

In our land of the free we can do whatever we want. And what we do inevitably bears consequences. I’m free to play loud music in my backyard, but then can expect some grief from neighbors. If I drive 100 mph down Mill Street, I’ll likely attract serious police attention. If I enter an establishment maskless, I may get turned away as though I were barechested. If I decline immunization for any reason, I’ll leave myself and those around me demonstrably vulnerable to COVID.

Consequences abound. A friend who rents out one of his rooms told his tenant, “I love you, man, but I have a heart condition, and if I get COVID I’m a goner. I can’t rely on you to get tested every week, so you’ll either get immunized or find a new place to live.” Large-scale institutions, especially in healthcare fields, are making similar demands of their employees, and the courts are backing them up.

If the pandemic is a virtual war, it’s the fiercest in our history. It’s already killed more Americans than the Civil War, ten times more than we lost in Vietnam, and two hundred times more than 9/11. Our eventual victory will require sacrifices–compared to other wars, more like inconveniences. Can we relinquish a bit of our struggle against being told what to do for the sake of national well-being?

Whispering Pines vaccine clinic nurse Jennifer Ulloa administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Grass Valley’s Shelby Sachs earlier this year.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com

Jeff Kane is a physician and writer in Nevada City

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