Commentary: The Coronavirus And The Citizen | WGLT

Commentary: The Coronavirus And The Citizen

Mar 25, 2020

COMMENTARY: The COVID 19 pandemic continues to unfold here in Illinois and the United States. There will likely be more cases, more fatalities, efforts of all kinds to contain and address this terrible life threatening virus that is wreaking havoc in and around the globe.  

From the vantage point of the average citizen the questions are what happens next, what will life be like in the days, and months ahead? 

Because I sit alone in my apartment trying to practice social distancing, I have some time to contemplate what’s next, what happened, and where is the average citizen in all this?  

I’m also wondering if I will be able to purchase bottled water or toilet paper!

I listen to my neighbors stressing over their work situation, or what to do with their children now home from school for an indefinite period. But I know somehow we will prevail, learn lessons, maybe develop a cure, and come together as a nation in the aftermath of the Coronavirus.

What is more concerning to me has been the seeming lack of caring, compassion, and civic responsibility that has spread in this country as much as the virus.

It has manifested itself at many levels in many ways over the past several months of the crisis. For example:

Where is our leadership (especially at the Federal level) for being ahead of this? In other words we hire (elect) our leaders to take care of things like this – period. I don’t care who I should blame or hear anything about why it’s not “my fault” – just fix it. Get the tests out there and provide the support the health system needs to cope. In addition, conveying some compassion and understanding along the way wouldn’t hurt.

Why do we always look for a scape goat, someone else to blame? I have heard: Don’t go to the Chinese restaurants because “they” have the Coronavirus. Do you mean the American owners who live down the street? Or maybe you pass by someone who looks like a foreign national and others whisper (or just blurt it out) that these people should “go home.” Or  regardless of race, you happen to cough into your arm and people run from you or give you the dirtiest looks. Like you are the main problem.

Even in the grocery store I have witnessed crowds pushing, yelling and even scuffling over toilet paper or milk. I understand the need for staples for your family in a crisis, but isn’t a 48 pack of toilet paper good enough for a family of four for two weeks?

I even question our officials and health experts who promote the need for “social distancing!” Why not call it physical distancing. I think we have enough social distancing as it is. That term implies staying away from one another (especially if they might be different somehow). Yes, keep your physical distance and avoid large crowds, but don’t isolate yourself so much that you simply don’t care about others.

And many citizens talk about the need for being isolationists.

We simply can’t hide, close borders or look the other way when an epidemic starts on the other side of the world and within three weeks is on our doorsteps.

And finally, there are the naysayers. They maintain the official response is silly. It’s an overreaction. It’s just the flu. It’s been around before. They don’t seem to care what health officials or government agencies tell them. Just look at Spring Break for College Students in full swing despite the warnings!

And I guess it’s that last example that leads me back to my point about what happens next after this epidemic is under control.

We are all in this together, like it or not, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, young or old, northerner or southerner, black or brown or white, down the street or around the world, and maybe, just maybe, that realization may become evident in the aftermath of this coronavirus pandemic.

Maybe it will help people recognize that we can’t do it alone. Citizens helping citizens is what this nation was founded on. Maybe we have forgotten that. But isn’t this concept of citizenship what democratic government is all about? Coming together to help others? For a greater good.

When there’s a fire, the fire department will be there, when the roads need to be repaired or the garbage needs to be thrown away the local government will handle that, when there is a foreign threat the military will protect us, or in our old age Social Security will keep us afloat and Medicare will provide us some help and health care.

Oh…and when there is a pandemic like the Coronavirus the CDC, municipal/county hospitals, State Division of Infectious Diseases, and local public health departments will save us. The point here is that we presume that. For our tax dollars we expect that.

We tend to forget their day to day role and impact. But in a crisis we expect government to help. That’s what a fully functional democratic society made up of citizens, and responsive to citizens, is all about.  

Let’s not wait until the next epidemic or crisis to think about these things.

Above all take care of yourself, your loved ones and your neighbors!!

Dr. Robert Smith is the Dean of the College of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Illinois Springfield.  

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