In the United States, as well as some other parts of the world, it’s now common to see/hear comments about how it’s time to ‘open up,’ that covid is only dangerous for people who are ‘immunocompromised’ or ‘have co-morbidities,’ that individuals should ‘choose their risk level’ and that any group larger than a household—such as a workplace, or a government—isn’t responsible for keeping its people safe from the virus.
I miss the days of ‘my mask protects you, your mask protects me’ public service announcements. There was a time, earlier in the pandemic, when many more people (including many public health authorities) felt a public responsibility to take care of each other. Not to say ‘I’m safe and it’s okay for me to put you at risk because freedom.’
You know who’s had the most freedom during the pandemic? People in societies with zero-Covid policies. With strong border controls and the infrastructure to smash outbreaks, people can go about their lives WITHOUT covid risk. When people in power put the onus on individuals to ‘manage’ our covid risk, they are taking away MY freedom.
Recognizing the limitations of individual choice means I also restrict my judgment of individuals. Do I know people who, as individuals, are making choices I consider reckless? Yes. But those choices wouldn’t be reckless if they were in West Australia prior to March 2022. Or in Kunming, China today. I don’t feel too resentful of people with little institutional power who act on ‘individual responsibility’ messaging from the powers-that-be by doing what they want to do. It’s not their fault, as individuals, that our public health system screwed up, and given the institutional failures of our public health system, any choice they make as individuals can’t make things much worse.
Individuals don’t have enough information to judge their own risks, which makes “personal choice” a false one. Even if not every assertion that article makes is true, the point is correct: the information which is widely available (in the United States, and many, though not all, other countries) is crap, and when information is crap, we can’t truly choose our ‘risk tolerance.’
Then there is the myth that ‘vulnerable’ people can isolate/protect themselves so that ‘healthy’ people can have ‘freedom.’
Uh, the actual way to protect immunocompromised and other vulnerable people would be to insist that the government pursue zero-covid policies. It’s much easier to protect the entire society than to cut just the most vulnerable people out (and isn’t cutting out vulnerable people bad for them?)
Another problem is… we’re uncertain who is vulnerable. When you add up all the co-morbidities which increase risk of bad covid infection outcomes, it adds up to much of our population. Plus, a covid infection can cause long-lasting damage, which can give someone a co-morbidity they didn’t have before.
As far as I know… I don’t have any of the co-morbidities which make me more vulnerable to covid. But do I really know that? I don’t. I can’t rule out health problems which have never been diagnosed.
I have one risk which is more concrete… my genetic history of Hashimoto’s disease. Based on tests I’ve taken before, I don’t have Hashimoto’s disease, but my body has warning signs which suggest that I’m one trigger away from developing the disease. The fuel is there, it’s just one spark away from catching fire. I’ve encountered anecdotes—which I believe—that covid can be the spark. Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease, and covid messes with the immune system.
Developing Hashimoto’s disease isn’t the worst thing which can happen—it’s treatable. But I’d rather not become dependent on artificial hormones for the rest of my life. If I can’t avoid that fate entirely, then I want to delay it as long as possible.
That’s something I have a clue about. What about things going on in my body I don’t have a clue about?
Though I seem to be one of those lucky people without co-morbidities which increase my risk of bad covid outcomes, I can’t be certain of that. And neither can anyone else.