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Californians Frustrated By State Coronavirus Rules Should Look In The Mirror (Washington Examiner) December 10, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

The song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has taken on new meaning in California, as most of the state has come under a new three-week “stay-at-home” order to slow the rapidly growing spread of COVID-19. Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steele complains that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new order is “not based on science or any clear standards.” The sheriff of Riverside County calls the new mandate “ridiculous” and says his department will not enforce it. Many have been quick to point out the hypocrisy of Newsom dining at the swank French Laundry restaurant with friends while ordering everyone else to stay home.

But hold on here. Is the problem really the governor and his sweeping new order? Or is it the people of California who would not follow previous guidelines and now must face the music? My verdict is the latter.

There has been too little discussion of the underlying issues of individual freedom versus state mandates in the COVID-19 crisis. On one hand, living in a free country means our first impulse should be to give people good information and guidelines but leave them free to make their own decisions. On the other hand, the government bears responsibility for making certain that the hospital and medical systems can handle the flood of cases coming their way. It is on this latter basis that the governor has taken stronger measures, mandating a stay-at-home order in regions where the available ICU bed capacity in hospitals has dropped below 15%. Preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed by sick patients is clearly within the state’s health and safety power.

Let’s be honest here. We came to this point because people were not willing to follow guidelines and take responsible voluntary action. Despite warnings not to travel and gather during the Thanksgiving holidays, millions did, and we now face the consequences: the biggest COVID-19 surge since July. Political leaders such as Newsom didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “I’d like to exert more power and control.” Instead, they were left to respond to the irresponsibility of their own people.

As the old car repair commercial put it, “You can pay me now (preventive maintenance), or you can pay me later (expensive repairs).” Californians would not pay the price of voluntarily staying away from travel and crowds, so now, they pay the higher price of staying home involuntarily for Christmas.

I grant that emergency action is often used too readily by leaders, noting especially how presidents employ hundreds of executive orders to do their bidding. I also understand that governments often do not give up their emergency powers when the crisis has passed. You and I currently live under some 30 states of national emergency declared as far back as the Carter administration and never removed from the books. That is shameful government overreach that ought to be stopped.

But a stay-at-home order based on hospital capacity after voluntary efforts failed to stem the crisis is exactly what government can and should do. A tailored order based on the ICU capacity of hospitals in specific regions of the state further limits the government reach.

When you see people not wearing masks and refusing to distance properly, they are exercising their freedom, yes. But just as the freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins, your freedom not to follow voluntary COVID-19 protocols risks others, not just yourself. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes pointed out, shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is not protected speech when it risks the lives and safety of others. That is where we are with COVID-19.

So, Californians, complain about your governor if you want, but you would do better to look in the mirror. The rest of you, beware the words of Jimmy Carter: “Whatever starts in California, unfortunately, has an inclination to spread.”

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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