Under most any other circumstances than those in which we currently find ourselves, the news that people have been returning to their local churches, or the Ocean City boardwalk and beach, or hair and nail salons would have been heralded as either good or, at worst, ignored as unremarkable. But when the world is beset by the COVID-19 pandemic, with U.S. deaths alone surpassing the 90,000 mark, and it’s clear that many of these activities threaten the health and welfare of our society, it’s beyond disappointing to see how quickly self-discipline exits stage right. Witness the close social interactions this weekend in Baltimore city, which is still under a stay-at-home order and where police received 60 calls about illegal gatherings on Friday alone, and the indoor church services in Dundalk, which were expressly forbidden last week by County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.
This is exactly the kind of confusion and boundary testing we warned might happen when Gov. Larry Hogan last week announced plans to allow local leaders to begin lifting “Stage One” stay-at-home restrictions if they deemed it safe for their regions. The urban areas most at risk for coronavirus infections chose to limit reopening, while rural areas were all in. But residents throughout the state ignored the differences in regional orders.
Blame the warm weather, blame cabin fever, blame the protest movement that would have you believe there’s nothing to this social distancing stuff and individuals have a responsibility only to themselves. You can even blame President Donald Trump and his continued insistence that life is about to return to normal even as medical experts insist that’s not true. But at some point, we must accept the current crisis is not about China or the World Health Organization or border screenings or the Obama administration’s stockpile of protective gear or all the other blame-shifting we hear from Washington. It’s not even about personal liberty, as much as protesters insist it is. It’s about acting responsibly. That shouldn’t be a difficult concept.
Social distancing is about slowing the spread of a disease across the population. So if church goers shared the virus at Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk on Sunday, you can bet they’ll be sharing it further throughout the community in no time at all. There’s a reason why indoor religious services are high on the list of risky behaviors. Much like school, they involve people in close proximity to one another and lots of speaking (and in many cases singing), leading droplets of saliva containing the virus to float around the pews, experts have observed.
And then, of course, there’s always the helpful nudges from people like Del. Robin L. Grammer Jr., who posted a photograph on his Facebook account lauding the church’s decision to defy Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. And he further notes that county police, despite threats of enforcement action, ended up doing nothing about the indoor service. “We will not continue to be dictated to,” he wrote in his Sunday posting. “The longer this continues, the worse the civil disobedience will become.” The photo clearly shows many of the churchgoers are elderly and may have put themselves in grave peril.
Delegate Grammer is correct about one thing. If people continue to act irresponsibly there isn’t really that much police or the government in general can ultimately accomplish even if they go on a citation-writing bender. They can’t lock up every person who chooses not to wear a mask in public places. They can’t keep guard on every church door. They can’t guarantee 6 feet of distance among all 328 million Americans. This is about loving they neighbor as thyself. This is about Matthew Chapter 22 and how Jesus rates loving others just behind loving God. Caring about others must include taking precautions not to spread a deadly disease to them.
It’s not uncommon to find people who are frustrated and angry these days. It’s a normal human response to these abnormal circumstances. But taking steps to reduce the spread of the coronavirus is the right thing to do. Refusing to act responsibly doesn’t make you a civil libertarian. It doesn’t make you a patriot or a devout person of faith. It surely doesn’t make you a hero. What it makes you is just another statistic, a potential carrier of a virus against which there is no known cure. We are all in this together. Stay safe. Hold fast. And follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Or, to put it another way, embrace the Golden Rule, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Your life may depend on it.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.