According to news reports, President Trump is considering lifting the administration’s guidelines on social distancing in the face of COVID-19.
After two months of dithering, the administration had finally acceded to the dire warnings of health experts last week and called for people across the United States to practice social distancing. Now it seems ready to jettison this approach.
As the New York Times reports, “Vice President Mike Pence indicated on Sunday at a White House briefing about the virus that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would issue new guidelines on Monday, allowing some people who have been exposed to the coronavirus to resume working outside their homes if they wear masks.”
This was followed by a midnight tweet from the president, in which he opened the possibility of moving away from his call to the nation for social distancing so that, as one person on his Twitter feed put it, “we can get the country back to work.”
This is a clear and present danger.
It is understandable that many people, including the president, want to lift the financial pain that the virus is wreaking on the country by getting people back on the job. But the health experts tell us in no uncertain terms that loosening this regimen now would accelerate this catastrophe, leading to widespread infection and mounting loss of life.
There is no evidence, moreover, that lifting this critical practice would actually help the United States resume “normal” economic life. Computer modeling (based on U.S. and Chinese data) clearly forecasts likely outcomes if inconsistent social distancing is practiced: high infection and death rates, compounded by an overwhelmed heath care system. Putting people back to work will worsen this outcome.
It’s for this reason the even some businesspeople are saying that, as terrible as the current situation is, it’s best to keep employees home for now rather than have them return where they are likely to spur recurring spikes of infection. (For an excellent summary of what’s needed, see this New York Times article, “The Virus Can Be Stopped, But Only With Harsh Steps.”)
Now is the time to make the US government’s guidance for sheltering at home more, not less, stringent.
While the government’s current guidance is not as comprehensive as it could be, it has nonetheless helped reinforce this tactic as essential for breaking the coronavirus’ transmission overall. We have seen a growing number of states mandating people to stay at home, and the U.S. government’s pronouncements on social distancing have no doubt strengthened this trend. If the administration rescinds its insistence on social distancing, it could severely undermine a practice which most health officials say is critical to ending the pandemic. As the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams said, “This week, it’s going to get bad … We really, really need everyone to stay at home.”
Now is the time to make the U.S. government’s guidance for sheltering at home more, not less, stringent.
A policy of national sheltering in place would still see a portion of the population not at home — the heroic health care workers and those performing critically needed jobs to help the nation continue to function. That said, it is crucial that the vast majority of people in this country stay put.
Such national sheltering in place, though, will not happen by itself.
Social change typically requires organizing people power: alerting, educating and mobilizing the populace to withdraw their consent from the status quo and to create support for an alternative. In this time of crisis — which clearly reveals the inability of the current system to support the well-being of all, and thus points us toward the challenging but crucial long-term task of building a new culture of peace, justice and environmental healing that excludes no one — we must begin by first breaking the transmission of the coronavirus, and this will take virtually all of us staying put.
Mobilizing for sheltering in place
In the midst of this monumental crisis, when life and death decisions are being made far away, it is easy to feel powerless. But our history teaches us that we have more power than we think. Millions of women and men have built movements for peace, justice and environmental sustainability across this country and around the world. Such efforts are not easy, but they are possible.
Possible, but daunting. While most campaigns and movements have taken months, years, and decades to develop, mobilize and win, we may have only a matter of days or weeks to do something breathtaking: to mobilize public opinion and be part of building a national consensus for nationwide sheltering in place.
How? Here are a few initial ideas.
First, we need to mobilize credible messengers, and here we begin with ourselves. I encourage all of us to maximize our own personal social networks to encourage everybody to “stay put.” If you like, send the meme I created (or create your own!) to your friends, families, neighbors, co-workers and all your friends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and ask them to be part of the movement to “stay strong, stay safe, and stay in.” Let’s find ways to applaud all the people who are doing their duty by staying home.
Second, we need to encourage all the other credible messengers who can help mobilize the public — and maybe can get the ear of the administration. Every professional group can go public (through social media, traditional media, press releases and their organizational networks) with support for national sheltering in place: doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, academics, teachers and on and on. Hollywood stars, media celebrities and as many politicians as possible, together with one voice need to say: We’re all in.
Third, mobilize the religious communities. Many have chosen to end in-person services, with some of them moving them online. Now let’s see them take the next step by clearly communicating with their congregations and with the nation’s leaders that national sheltering in place must be deepened and broadened, not curtailed.
Fourth, let’s encourage those who might oppose this tactic to seriously consider getting behind it. As we now know, a virus does not know the difference between a Republican or a Democrat, a CEO or a minimum-wage worker. We’re on the right track — beginning to break the transmission, often at great sacrifice — so let’s go all the way. We are all in this together, and we can all be part of the solution. Indeed, it is the best way to support the country in this time of calamity. These dialogues will be key to creating a unified response to this catastrophe.
Fifth, each of us can in chime with the administration, urging it to double down on social distancing and, even more, calling for an even more stringent stay-in-place. The email address can be found on the White House’s website here.
Sixth, let’s brush up on our active nonviolence as we seek to make this first important step toward the great, nonviolent shift that is beckoning. A great place to start is Martin Luther King’s six principles of nonviolence, which help us see nonviolence is a courageous way of life that seeks to defeat injustice, not people. It engages the suffering of the world with nonviolent resistance, love and determination. We will need the power of active nonviolence to take the steps to end the pandemic and to create a world that works for everyone going forward.
These are just a few ideas. What are yours?
Whatever we do, let’s go all in.
Campaign Nonviolence, a project of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, is working for a new culture of nonviolence by connecting the issues to end war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction. We organize The Nonviolent Cities Project and the annual Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions.
Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.