In 1775, the rabble-rousing Founding Father Patrick Henry famously said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
In 2021, Henry’s posterity is being told by far too many people, including those in control of the Utah Legislature, that liberty is death. Not death for you, necessarily, but for someone else, someone who may be close to you or many someones you don’t even know.
Resistance to such reasonable and effective public health measures as mask mandates and vaccine requirements is not liberty. It is the opposite of liberty.
Opposition to and sometimes even government prohibitions of mask and vaccine mandates are the reason why this pandemic has not just lingered, but surged.
Students now returning to school face a difficult period of readjustment, trying to make up for months of absence that inflicted untold intellectual and emotional damage, even as low vaccination rates and irrational resistance to mask mandates threaten to shut it all down again.
This opposition to proper public health measures is why concerts and high school football games are being cancelled, why so many of those who can are still working remotely, why case numbers are again rising why ICUs are full and why more and more of those stricken, hospitalized and dying are not just the aged, whom some public officials were willing to sacrifice for the sake of the economy, but young people and even infants.
George Washington and Benjamin Franklin would be appalled at the notion that liberty consists only of being able to thumb your nose at the government. Their generation understood that civic responsibility requires individuals to act for the common good, on their own when possible, by law as necessary. As when Washington commanded that his troops be inoculated against smallpox, by a messy pre-vaccination method called variolation, lest the disease wipe out his army before the British had a chance.
This is what happens when Ronald Reagan’s dictum of government always being the problem rather than the solution becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Elected officials in Utah and other red states have deliberately stopped government from helping, frittering away time and money on back-scratching contracts and snake-oil cures, and have gone out of their way to prevent other public agencies or jurisdictions from facing the COVID-19 pandemic head-on.
The anti-government crowd may or may not take a perverse pleasure in seeing how individuals and various entities — from universities to Wall Street to rock bands — are stepping in where our elected leaders have so clearly failed.
Some hope has arrived in the form of full FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, an action that voids the Utah Legislature’s prohibition of vaccine mandates for public schools and universities. By Friday, the University of Utah, Utah State University and Weber State University announced that immunization mandates were soon to come. They join private Westminster College in doing so.
The next step should be a statewide mandate for vaccinations issued by the Utah System of Higher Education, for colleges and universities, and by the Utah State Board of Education, for all K-12 schools.
It is too late to hand that decision off to individual colleges and school districts. That was made clear when Gov. Spencer Cox offered an executive order to allow school districts to impose mask mandates and those speaking for the districts begged him not to. They reasonably foresaw that if they were handed that authority, the anti-science crowd would overwhelm their school board meetings and shout down any attempt to fight the virus in the name of “freedom.”
Elsewhere, entities requiring staff, students and soldiers — and, in some cases, customers — to be vaccinated to enter their facilities include the Sundance Film Festival, Usana Amphitheater, the University of Virginia, Ohio State University, Duke University, Goldman Sachs, Counting Crows, Garth Brooks, the Department of Defense, the University of Oregon and public schools in that state, the White House, performing arts centers in Kansas City and Denver, the World Series of Poker, CVS, Microsoft, schools and theaters in New York City, Disney World and Disney Cruise Lines, the Las Vegas Raiders, the Portland Trail Blazers, back offices of Walmart and McDonald’s and The Salt Lake Tribune.
Delta Air Lines has told its employees that any of them not vaccinated will have to pay an extra $200 a month for company-supplied health insurance, as they are adding to the risk. The airline noted the threat of the most virulent variety, though it understandably refrained from using its common name — delta.
Poor leadership and irresponsible social media denied Utah and the rest of the nation the chance to effectively manage the pandemic with a rapid acceptance of the vaccine when it was first offered months ago.
Now our hopes lie with individuals and organizations, public and private, that should and will increasingly urge, push and, where they can, require vaccination, which was always our way out of this.
True adherents of Reaganism will at least not use government to stand in their way.
It won’t be as effective, or as quick, as a more forceful push from our state leaders would have been. It will be too late for many of us. But, right now, it’s all we have.