Whether you choose to participate in COVID-19 spread prevention tactics like covering your nose and mouth, keeping some distance between yourself and other people in shared spaces or staying home more often than going out, you’re part of the pandemic in this community.
There is no opt-out clause. The point of no return happened months ago. The good news in this seemingly bleak patch of reality is that we all still have tons of freedom. We’re going to all enjoy the freedom to choose how we think and how we respond to the long-term affects COVID-19 will leave in our community, long after the last positive case is announced or the last hospitalization or death occurs.
If you need an example of an unintended long-term affect of the COVID-19 pandemic, look no further than your nearest major highway or road.
The Missouri Department of Transportation estimates it will slash anywhere from $45 million to $100 million from its budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. That’s only one year of lost revenue. That money represents road and bridge projects that won’t get done, probably MoDOT employees who will no longer have jobs and road construction workers who won’t get paid to build highways.
Those impacts are going to last far beyond 2021. Every time a highway project gets postponed, we all have to deal with driving on roads that aren’t fit for the vehicles and the people they serve. As a resident of Ozark, I love driving on the newly-widened South Street, and I never thought I would ever say that. I couldn’t imagine going back to single file driving at 6 p.m. on a congested Thursday evening, and I don’t want to even think about it.
Impacts like the MoDOT funding cut are happening in public and private sector entities across Christian County and across Missouri. In our county, the unemployment rate is still at about 7.9 percent. It’s down from the 12.3 percent it hit in March, but it’s still more than double the 3 percent unemployment rate we had in January 2020, before COVID-19 changed the way we work, live, learn and play forever.
There is a string of paragraphs I’ve seen circulating on Facebook expressing denial, disgust and vitriol. In reading it, I’m not exactly certain who the author is angry with, probably everyone.
“Your fear is not my fear, and your fear does not have the right to interfere with my life, my job, my income or my future as a free American citizen,” the author writes.
We all have fears, some are shared publicly, others are kept private. However, you’re mistaken if you think you’ll be able to isolate yourself from interacting with other people and the emotions that motivate them in your professional and civic living. Human beings weren’t designed to live and work in isolation.
“I’m done playing your dumb game. We are not ‘all in this together.’ I'm not wearing your dumb tinfoil hat anymore. I’m no longer going to be a prisoner of your fear. I'm no longer staying in my house or catering to you because you are scared. I'm not wearing a mask and I'm not staying 6 feet away from you anymore because I'm not afraid of you,” the author writes.
There is a lot to unpack here, but for the sake of brevity, I’m going to pick apart some key phrases.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not a “dumb game.” It killed 129,576 Americans as of July 5. It’s killed more than 1,000 Missourians. Unfortunately, one of those people, who was a loved one too many other people, was a Christian County resident.
One death is too many if it was preventable by something so simple as you covering your nose.
As far as being “all in this together” goes. I understand the pushback to an extent. Not everyone jumps fully into a state of steadfast loyalty to a cause at the first rallying cry. Slogans, fiery speeches and even emotional appeals aren’t for everyone.
But this is a global pandemic. This is not an American pandemic or a Missouri pandemic or even an Ozark pandemic. We’re talking about a virus that for some causes real and lasting consequences like permanent lung damage and death. If those don’t appeal to you because you don’t care about the lives of others, then think of the wages and opportunities for fulfillment that the people who contract COVID-19 experience. If your financial wellbeing is that important to you, then their financial success should be, too.
You may not be a willing participant in this pandemic, but you’re in it. Maybe, just maybe, you can look beyond your own wants and desires and take some small bit of action to help someone else. It might just save their life or their livelihood.
I’m not afraid of you, either. We’re not supposed to be afraid of one another. What we have to fear is the thought that our own reckless actions could forever derail the lives of others.