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The nation is approaching day 60 of the COVID-19 shutdown. As we deal with this significant threat to our health and imposition on our lives, underlying political tensions, which pre-existed the onset of the virus, are exacerbating the situation. There is widespread mistrust of the news media. Everyone listens to their preferred source, running the risk of receiving filtered, inaccurate or incomplete information at a time when reliable news is critical.
Mistrust is also manifesting itself in growing opposition to edicts issued by state and local authorities. The Governor of Michigan was accused of imposing politically biased restrictions on citizens drawing public protest. The New York Police have encountered physical resistance attempting to enforce social distancing policies mandated by the Mayor. The health director of Ventura County California walked back remarks, suggesting that people could be forced from their homes into quarantine, as a new track and trace program is rolled out. Perhaps most glaring was the jail sentence of a beauty shop owner in Dallas Texas, because of her refusal to obey a city shut down order. Texas’s Lieutenant Governor stepped in to mitigate this punishment, wisely perceiving the potential ramifications of antagonizing generally law-abiding people, who are becoming increasingly desperate about their livelihoods.
Make no mistake, this is a serious health crisis. Information clearly suggests COVID-19 is unpredictable, highly communicable and potentially deadly. Prudence is a wise course. However, there is also a legitimate concern over how government agencies are reacting to it, and whether they are using it for political advantage. For example, the Massachusetts legislature refused to extend deadlines for the submission of nomination papers for state legislative races, making it impossible for those challenging incumbents to get on the ballot. The Mass Supreme Judicial Court had to order an extension. These types of actions feed public paranoia. Officials must demonstrate sensitivity to concerns on both ends of the spectrum
Retired Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz offers a three-point test to determine whether government action is prudent or exploitive during a crisis: (1) every edict issued should have a “sunset provision,” an expiration date, so that it can be reviewed, revised and terminated based on new data; (2) all actions must be justified by clear scientific evidence; (3) partisanship must be put on hold. The focus must be; minimizing death, protecting life, and treating everyone equitably. This is sound advice. –Dennis Galvin, Concord Road, Westford