U.S.

What Happened to Social Distancing?

People take part in a protest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd in Boston, Mass., June 3, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
It’s still mandatory — unless you’re looting, rioting, and starting fires.

Cardenas Ortiz-Sandoval’s mother, Guadalupe, died last month. Cardenas, 22, helped to plan her funeral. She was told by mortuary officials that the state of California would not allow more than ten people to attend her mother’s graveside service. Some family members were forced to stay home. Lifelong friends could not bury a woman they had known for decades. “So many public spaces are open,” Ortiz-Sandoval told CNN, “but a cemetery, which is open-air, is limited to ten per funeral.”

The family of Guadalupe Ortiz-Sandoval did not burn Los Angeles to the ground. They did not start riots. They, and millions like them, did not attend their loved one’s funeral service because the public-health authorities told them not to.

As I write this piece, a policeman is scouring the streets in my ruralish Connecticut suburb, patrolling the neighborhood for congregants and other insubordinates of the social-distancing regime. It is nice outside. Many are sick of sitting indoors, or pacing the streets in solitude. Most have dutifully followed the orders of the public-health officials, epidemiologists, and chart-makers whom the media have coronated as our de facto shepherds through this pandemic.

You remember what they told us. People on the beach? Fools. Three people riding together on a boat in Michigan? Lethal. Tepidly reopening the economy? An experiment in human sacrifice. The virus doesn’t go away because you’re bored. It doesn’t care that you’re grieving, your livelihood is ruined, your business has collapsed, or your spouse is abusive. You can’t pray it away at your church. So stay home, stay safe, and flatten the curve.

And that’s an order.

Unless, of course, you’re protesting racial injustice. Those protesting George Floyd’s death in crowds large enough to fill a small stadium have evaded scrutiny from the same people who told us that Floridians lying distanced on a beach were Literally Killing People. Some elected officials say that these protests are different — that the demonstrators have a good reason to be congregating on the streets. As Bill de Blasio said, the protests are much different from the matter of the “aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person.” They don’t have good reasons to break quarantine. The looters do.

Everyone you know has a “good reason” to break quarantine. Some wish to bury a relative, while others want to visit a lonely elder in a nursing home. Parents want to baptize their children to save their souls, and first-generation college students want to attend graduation. All of them were told to abstain from these things in the name of public health. Following those orders had human costs — rates of domestic violence increased during the lockdowns. Calls to suicide hotlines skyrocketed. Millions were thrown out of work. Businesses built over generations filed for bankruptcy, Some will never recover.

Those who protested the lockdown regime were ridiculed. Governor Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan said that anti-lockdown protests came “at a cost to people’s health.” Michigan nurses stood in front of protesters’ cars with folded arms, leering on in contempt. As hordes of looters and rioters turned to the streets, however, NPR informed us that “dozens of public health and disease experts have signed an open letter in support of the nationwide anti-racism protests.” Nurses in New York stood outside a hospital and cheered as protesters, some of whom were unmasked, packed together like sardines and marched through the streets to protest police brutality. The chair of the New York City Council’s health committee, Mark Levine, says that “if there is a spike in coronavirus cases in the next two weeks,” we ought not to “blame the protesters. Blame racism.”

If we shouldn’t “blame” them, then we ought not “blame” the regular people who break quarantine to mourn their dead. If it’s true, as the experts told us, that the virus does not discriminate, and does not care how trying your personal circumstances are, then the virus certainly does not care about how unjust the Minneapolis police department may be. If no “open letter” of apology from the “medical community” is forthcoming to the bereaved who stared at their casketed relative on an iPad, the least that those officials can do is admit that they never really cared about the lockdowns at all.

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