xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Our best COVID-19 strategy: Looking out for the common good | COMMENTARY

In this April 28, 2020, file photo medical personnel attend a daily 7 p.m. applause in their honor, during the coronavirus pandemic outside NYU Langone Medical Center in the Manhattan borough of New York. Such selfless behavior needs to be more widespread as experts point out that 70,000 U.S. lives might be spared between now and year's end if Americans consistently wore masks. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
In this April 28, 2020, file photo medical personnel attend a daily 7 p.m. applause in their honor, during the coronavirus pandemic outside NYU Langone Medical Center in the Manhattan borough of New York. Such selfless behavior needs to be more widespread as experts point out that 70,000 U.S. lives might be spared between now and year's end if Americans consistently wore masks. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) (John Minchillo/AP)

Across Maryland, the pandemic continues to reveal itself like a morality play. Over and over again, Marylanders, like so many people living elsewhere, face difficult choices, their lives fundamentally altered in areas ranging from employment to schooling to transportation to medical care to civic affairs and on and on. Much of the public debate has centered — perhaps predictably given the political dynamic in Washington — on the proper role of government. But that’s a bit misleading. Ultimately, it still comes down to personal responsibility.

Until there’s a cure or more effective treatment than is currently available, the best hope to reduce the spread of the coronavirus is by people following the recommendations of medical experts, even if the politicians don’t require them. These include social distancing, staying away from large groups particularly indoors, wearing masks, washing hands, disinfecting surfaces and on and on. This is not a new concept. It should be obvious by now. But if there’s one thing learned in six months of this circumstance, it’s how difficult this simple idea can be in practice.

Advertisement

Take, for example, the young couples who had planned to marry this year. As reported by The Sun’s Christine Condon, it’s been a struggle for families to make choices: Shrink the wedding? Postpone? Cancel? Elope? Even the possibility that a wedding guest might contract the virus doesn’t prevent some from pressing forward, the emotions and aspirations wrapped up in these moments not easily set aside. The odds of tragedy striking, particularly if precautions are taken such as holding the event outdoors? Perhaps slim. But they also can’t be wholly eliminated. And so competing interests must be balanced: Have our dream wedding or protect our friends and families at all costs? Or, perhaps, a dream beach vacation: In Ocean City, the initial decision not to require visitors to wear masks on the boardwalk, since reversed, led the resort town to recently report some of the worst COVID-19 numbers in the state. What if people just wore them early on, anyway?

Here’s what we should all be thinking about whether blushing bride or boardwalk vendor; you can frame it anyway you like: What is best for everyone? What is best for the neighbors? For the state? For the nation? What is best for the most vulnerable among us? Too often, this notion of “personal responsibility” is seen only as a personal risk assessment. Send a child to school because my son or daughter is unlikely to suffer serious illness. Why not walk a crowded boardwalk (or perhaps attend a motorcycle gathering in South Dakota) if I’m brave enough to chance it? And then, of course, there are the naysayers who are certain the whole thing is overblown who just don’t care one way or the other.

Advertisement

But look around the world and it’s those nations where people accepted not just personal responsibility but a broader societal responsibility that have done best during the pandemic. The United States surely flattened the curve, if belatedly, but relaxed that approach too soon and now leads the planet in confirmed cases and deaths. More than 162,000 Americans have died and the number could rise to 300,000 by year’s end — unless people take additional precautionary steps. Just having everyone wear a mask consistently could save 70,000 lives, according to computer modeling by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.

Slip on a mask and prevent tens of thousands of funerals between now and Christmas? Why is that even any debate about that? “No man is an island,” as John Donne wrote so presciently four centuries ago. We depend on help from others to thrive. The only real roadblock is thinking only of oneself. If somehow that understanding is finally achieved, the rest should be relatively simple.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels, writer Peter Jensen and summer intern Anjali DasSarma — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement