“You should seek balance in all things”. Someone important probably said that. Regardless of who did say it or what context they meant it, it’s a pretty good maxim. An extreme reaction tends to have extreme consequences. And, even if an extreme reaction is warranted, the it should be axiomatic that questioning an extreme reaction just comes with the territory.
Case in point: “Shelter in Place”. Now, for whatever reason, this topic has become politicized. That’s not necessarily bad because it means people care. But because it has become politicized, and I want people to keep reading this article, let me pose the real question with all assumptions included. The real question is not should we lift the Shelter in Place Order, but how do we open up the economy while protecting rights and those who are the most vulnerable?
I read somewhere onetime that for every 1 percent the unemployment rate rises, 40,000 people die—direct correlation. That’s not to mention, that economic strife disproportionately affects minorities and the poor. Shutting down all non-essential businesses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, whatever your viewpoint, has certainty caused economic strife and we’ve seen unemployment skyrocket, which begs the question, what will make us sicker?
Hardworking people are out of work indefinitely. That not only means that they must struggle to provide basic necessities for their families, it also means that the economy loses their contribution i.e. taxes that supports our social safety net. The ripple effect of shutting down an economy will be sending waves long after this pandemic is over.
Let’s not forget, however, that this virus kills people, especially the more vulnerable among us. After all, the government is not just shutting down businesses for the heck of it. So, we need to find a balance. We need to ensure that we do not trade one bad situation for another. We may be out of the frying pan, but are we headed for the fire?
There’s also the question of individual rights. An executive order to shelter in place is, no matter which way you spin it, a suspension of individual rights—even fundamental rights afforded to us by the Constitution. Do we want a precedent? Do we want the government having grounds to prevent freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of religion?
Let’s look at where the rubber meets the road. We’ve had concerns about police overreach in this country for years. Luckily, police need probable cause to stop someone. Otherwise, anyone could be harassed by law enforcement. Probable cause means reasonable and articulable grounds that a crime is a foot. What about violation of a stay at home order? Does that mean that anyone not at home can possibly be violating the order, therefore providing probable cause for a lawful police stop? Can the stay at home order provide a pre-text for police to “lawfully” violate basic privacy rights?
I’m sure that the answers to the questions may vary. We’re in uncharted waters and no one really knows the answers. The important thing is that these questions be asked. I have learned that to solve a problem, you focus on the solution. The problem we’re facing is that we need to protect people from a pandemic, from infringement of individual rights, and not tank the economy. What’s the solution? Is there a solution?
Maybe an extreme reaction is warranted. Perhaps we should focus on “flattening the curve” and let the chips fall where they may. What you, the reader, need to remember is that whatever you may think, someone is making the decision for you. Your voice matters. Add to the conversation, contribute to the narrative, and help solve the problem. Ask your friends, your family, your congressman. Ask them what the answer should be. Ask the important questions and remain vigilant of the fact that this is a novel problem. Nobody has the answers, no matter how emphatically, how loudly, or how bluntly they declare they do.
Brenton S. Begley
Elder Law Attorney
McIntyre Elder Law
“We help seniors maintain their lifestyle and preserve their legacies.”