Alfred C. Jones: Thoughts on the shutdown from a COVID-19 survivor
Alfred C. Jones
On March 19, in response to the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Newsom issued his shelter-in-place order, closing non-essential businesses and prohibiting all non-essential travel. Since that time, Nevada County has experienced a vanishingly small number of COVID-19 cases.
As of this week, there appear to be no active cases at all.
Contrast that with New York City, where on March 19 I came down with a case of COVID-19 that nearly killed me. My wife found me comatose early that morning and called 911. The ER at Mount Sinai West Hospital confirmed me as in critical condition, COVID-19 positive, plus bacterial pneumonia and dangerously low blood sodium. The doctors put me into the ICU, sedated me, intubated me and worked to clear the multiple threats from the disease. When I woke up six days later, my nurse told me that I was the first patient in that hospital who would be able to get off a ventilator.
When I went into a coma, America was open. When I finally was able to watch TV 10 days later, it was shut down.
“Destroying the entire economy to stop this thing strikes me as an over-reaction” — that was my first thought, even as I considered the chaos around me. “Closing stores and restaurants, sending everyone to work from home if they can and into unemployment if they cannot, that can’t go on for very long before it leads to an economic catastrophe.”
In fact, that’s exactly what’s happened. The virus continued to spread despite the shutdowns. While it did, we experienced the worst economic downturn in American history, one brought on not by greedy capitalists or crooked Wall Street bankers but rather by the very government we thought we elected to serve us. Our leaders keep proclaiming that it’s too soon to open, yet never give clear signals about when it will be safe to re-open.
In other words, to prevent another case like me, every retail or restaurant worker in Nevada County is unemployed. Small businesses built up over years and decades and in some cases generations of hard work are disappearing.
Different communities call for different responses. In New York, I was at the very center of the storm. I learned later that a 41-year-old father of four died in the ICU on the same day that I was taken off the ventilator. Hundreds of people joined him in dying that day. Thousands joined me in falling ill. In such circumstances, extreme conditions justify an extreme response.
Having recuperated enough to take the airlines, I returned to Nevada County on May 1 into an entirely different situation. More people died in a couple of days at Mt. Sinai West than ever got the disease in Nevada County. The risk here remains low. Continuing the economic devastation of these shutdown orders in the face of this reality feels authoritarian and unconstitutional. The choice is not between “people and profits.” The choice is between a few people and the whole population.
We who live here should be allowed to make up our own minds about the risks we wish to take. Restaurants should reopen. Employees should be called back to work. The schools should try to get into session within a couple of weeks. The county should no longer threaten churches with punishment if they exercise their constitutional right to hold services.
The Board of Supervisors should follow the lead of Modoc, Yuba and Sutter counties and vote to reopen immediately.
Alfred C. Jones lives in Grass Valley.
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