The pages of the book fluttered while I hurriedly flipped through the lengthy work. Finding the last page of the book, my eyes scanned it when my heart dropped. I tended to lean towards the dystopian genre. These books were always laced with loss and tragedy, so contrary to the regular progression of reading a book, I liked to know the ending first to emotionally prepare myself for what would happen. What enticed me was a future we would never face, one filled with danger and fear. Little did thirteen-year-old me know that dystopian fiction would become our collective dystopian reality four years later. The comfort I found reading the end would not be a luxury I was afforded anymore. We don't know what is to come during this international crisis, possibilities far surpassing any author's imagination. Every state and country has had differing views on lockdown and balancing it with its infringement on personal liberty. This has allowed for an uncertain future. Will death at unprecedented rates continue? It all depends on whether the public good or personal rights are prioritized. To me, the answer seems simple. It is imperative we do whatever it takes to preserve human lives.
Disturbing images came out of Italy in which churches were overwhelmed with coffins and dead bodies. Stories were revealed about doctors in New York City having to choose who they will offer limited life-saving resources to and who they will not. Those dystopian novels I read had an enemy that could be defeated. One that was an ever-present and dangerous force throughout the storyline. COVID-19 is similarly intensely dangerous and present, but unlike the protagonists of a dystopian novel, some do not fight against the imminent peril. "Oh, I don't have any symptoms, and it's not like one person is going to make much of a difference; it's okay if I go out, right?"
Individual liberty has immense power, including the ability to cause the death of others. In South Korea, a sixty-one-year-old woman refused to self-quarantine or get tested for the coronavirus, although she exhibited multiple symptoms. She dismissed all the warning signs and calls for isolation and went to church, coming into contact with hundreds of people. During the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Korea, according to the BBC, half of the early cases of the coronavirus could be linked directly to her. This extensive contact led directly to the death of many. Currently, the worldwide death count is at around 1.3 million. It is a death toll one can hardly conceptualize. We can only imagine the pain thousands of families are going through. People are losing their mothers, fathers, brothers, and children. It is truly horrifying. Lives ended too early, ones filled with hope and promise, are now abruptly gone.
An ideal shouldn't be held over the lives of humans.
Freedom and liberty are ideas the United States was built upon. Although these are honorable notions, it is not worth the price of collective well-being. Constitutionally, states have the right to prescribe such restrictions on life. If your personal liberty infringes on others' freedom, it can be taken away. If you have COVID-19 and come into contact with another and they pass away, you have taken away their right to life. Looking at precedence, during a national crisis, governments have partaken in limitations of personal liberties. Lincoln suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus in border states during the Civil War. During World War I, the Espionage Act was passed to maintain stability. Although we can debate the merit of these decisions, such powerful action taken by the US governments wouldn't be a new development. I would be remiss to say this is not a nuanced issue. Because of the lockdown, millions have lost their jobs, putting their lives in economic upheaval. Individual liberties taken away have had a massive impact on the well-being and day-to-day lives of countless families. Once again, I point you towards the priority of human lives. Economic issues and individual liberty should be weighted less than mass death.
Like all stories, I'm searching for a happy ending to this dystopia-like scenario. In the books I used to read, the team of good guys would fight for a better world; they would sacrifice and do what was needed to save society. I used to read these fictional characters for entertainment, but their "bravery" is a virtuous example. We must act in this way. Let us positively use our personal liberty. Let us decide to stay home, follow government regulations, and save lives.