Leonard Zwelling

         As this op-ed in The New York Times by Charles Warzel on May 6 indicates in its print version title, “Will We Get Used To The Dying?” death seems to be losing its context and its impact in America.

         What, you say? Impossible. Really? What about the guns?

         There can be no doubt that America is inured to the death from guns that occurs uniquely in this country. What is really a public health issue, death from firearms at the rate of about 100 per day, has been turned into one of individual rights. It’s all in the context. Some see guns as a safety issue, where protecting human life is first. Others see guns as an individual rights issue guaranteed by the Constitution. (It’s not. Individuals are not armed militias.) It depends on your context. Is the coronavirus any different? Warzel thinks not.

         So as we move toward 3000 covid-19 deaths per day (there are about 1600 deaths per day from cancer), why would anyone expect a coherent policy to emanate from Congress or the White House with regard to how we should handle this latest infectious threat? Like the gun issue there are extremists on both sides, but unlike the gun issue we are in a lot less control with the virus.

         With guns, there are those of us who really cannot see why people need all these guns, especially the ones whose sole purpose is to kill other people. Shouldn’t they be for police and military personnel only? I guess you’ll be shooting a deer with an AK47 next time hunting season comes around. Other Americans feel it is their right to own any gun they want and as many as they want. Is there no middle ground? Can’t we have guns for self-protection and hunting without assault weapons? Can’t we have thorough background checks, even for gun show sales? I guess not.

         The same extremes hold true for the coronavirus among Americans. There are those, many who are public health experts in Washington, who believe that the country is not ready to open up as it is doing. No state has met the guidelines originally set by the White House to enter phase 1. These medical experts fear a wave of increased illness and death and a need to return to the shutdowns that we have endured for the past two months. There are others, often holding guns, who insist that they have a right to do whatever they want, any way they want, even if it endangers others (e.g., not wearing a mask; not social distancing). I have seen this behavior myself.

         It is clear that in both areas—guns and coronavirus—the individualists are winning and have a champion in the White House. It does make you wonder what will happen if and when a vaccine for coronavirus is developed. Will the antivaxxers rise against that, too, and Trump will say there are “good people on both sides” of a corona vaccine issue as well? It’s all in the context.

         I am afraid that both of these arguments of current American life have to be placed in a public health context, but have not been. I honestly do not know what the correct posture with regard to the coronavirus is. I am not sure that the severe lockdown of New Zealand will be ultimately protective or simply a shift of illness and death to a future date. The latter would be the case if everyone gets exposed and intrinsic factors (e.g., genetics) determine who gets really sick. Maybe Sweden was right all along. It took a larger hit than its neighbors now, but may be rewarded with herd immunity and less death later. We shall see.

         I do know that the American response is nuts because it is incoherent.

         Tom Friedman makes this case in his column on May 6 as well.

         America needs a national plan, not 50 individual ones. State borders are a fallacy in the United States and the virus has no respect for them.

         Either we commit to the Swedish model, which we seem to be backing into, or use the New Zealand, Germany, China model. I just cannot see America doing the latter. If we can’t get guns right when 100 are dying every day, how can we get the virus right, once 3000 die every day?

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