Another day in Oregon with 344 new cases, second highest (yesterday was higher). The United States will report over 50,000 new cases nationwide.

The to-do list would have seemed somewhat simple: Mask, meet outdoors, physically distance, ventilate interior spaces with outdoor air, wash your hands, sanitize frequently touched surfaces, etc.

Alas.

It is, frankly, too late for much of America. We are beginning to see dozens of outbreaks similar to New York City. ICUs will overflow and tens of thousands will die. Trump’s asleep-at-the-wheel presidency (which is the nicest way I can put it) has killed thousands and will kill thousands more. Multiple state governors have followed his lead and driven their respective clown cars right off the cliff. It is a ghastly spectacle.

Medical science has improved treatments for patients. When not overwhelmed, we’re able to lower the mortality rate via drugs, convalescent plasma, and improved protocols. We continue on that front to make progress.

Unfortunately, lowered lethality does not mean a COVID-19 infection can be thought of as a problem solved. Multiple serious health issues from blood clots to impaired brain function follow many survivors. If we get to herd immunity, it has to be via a vaccine not exposure or we’re going to have a massive, continuing healthcare crisis. If at all possible, not getting infected remains the best option.

Vaccination is the greatest public health intervention in human history. That some people are so anti-science as to not see this remains a source of sadness and bafflement. If a COVID-19 vaccine arrives—and I continue to believe one will arrive (though not this year)—it must protect against the virus, be safe long-term, and be voluntary. Given those requirements, how long would it take the United States to roll out a vaccine to the populace? What percentage of people would accept it vs. reject it? Can we still get to a herd immunity threshold if there are a lot of antivaxxers who refuse?

I have come to the belief that without a vaccine there is only remote schooling and remote work. Travel will be restricted. Businesses will continue to shutter. Unemployment will be a persistent problem.

Having failed at containment, we will continue in this hellish limbo, while being the object of scorn and pity worldwide. That much of that blame falls on our political leaders is unquestionable, but there’s plenty for the populace as well, and as the nation’s birthday approaches, it’s worth talking about. 

Individual freedom is the bedrock value of this nation. No one is subject to a crown, church, or nobleman. As a nation, via democracy, we the people govern ourselves. If we do not like something, democracy offers a mechanism for peaceful change: elections.

Rights are not unfettered. Self-reliance is the corresponding cost to the right of individual freedom. People must take personal responsibility for their own lives, financially, emotionally, and so forth. A person’s success and failure, happiness or sadness, etc. is no one else’s responsibility. It is a responsibility that belongs to each of us. That so many citizens have failed at this task in a fight that imperils health of so many, highlights the broken nature of our civic engagement. This, among many other things, we must fix.

So there is a mission before us, which is the saving of our liberal democracy and values therein. Whether the threat greater from populist right or the illiberal left matters not. Both are dangerous when they stray from foundational values like liberty, self-government, and equality. The value of liberty encompasses freedom of speech, inquiry, association, belief. Self-governance relies on democracy—a government of the people, by the people, for the people—as the best mechanism for a strong, peaceful, stable society. Equality means that everyone, regardless of personal characteristics, is given an equal opportunity at success however he or she might define it and that the law—the rules we collectively agree to live by—afford everyone the same rights.
That America has throughout its history often not lived up to these values does not make them any less important. Our failures have been monumental but they also illuminate our successes.

Who we were then is not who we are now. We have grown in our understanding about this reality. From technological advancements to scientific discoveries to the spread of human rights to the promotion of democratic values, America has frequently led the world.

Perhaps we might again. If so, it will start by remembering who we are and the values that brought forth this great nation.