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Coronavirus, the ultimate freedom killer

Beach sign
A sign indicates bike path and beach closures in Manhattan Beach.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, March 28, 2020. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

It’s time to level with you: This coronavirus quasi-lockdown in California is hard. My children, all three of them, are home as both my spouse and I juggle working remotely and home schooling. Friends and relatives have it much worse — some have reduced work hours or no jobs at all, others are sick, and a handful of particularly vulnerable loved ones live in terror of the human proximity they once craved. One person particularly concerning to me is my mother, a nurse nearing retirement at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, which recently declared it has no protective masks left in its emergency stockpile.

So just like many of you, I’m scared and even a little stir-crazy. Having the benefit of personal circumstances, the absolute necessity of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order is clear to me — but that does not preclude feeling concerned about whether we have the collective stamina to stay put (odd, I know, but it is what it is) or how crashing the economy profoundly harms the lives of millions of people. This is a tension explored by our deputy editorial page editor Jon Healey in his piece comparing his view of the shutdown, which he admits causes him little meaningful discomfort, and that of his sister, whom he describes as “one of the world’s best humans, generous and empathetic to an extreme”:

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“My sister readily conceded that we have to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections to keep hospitals and clinics from being overrun with patients. But she noted that most people who contract COVID-19 don’t need to be hospitalized.

“‘The people can handle social distancing, wearing gloves if out handling things, and self-quarantine if and when they are sick, coughing or sneezing,’ she wrote. ‘People can handle putting off large-crowd events, concerts, sports, etc. The freedom-loving people in this country cannot handle being told they cannot work, cannot leave their homes, or that their business cannot continue because the public health requires it.

“‘Keeping us safe is the biggest killer of individual freedom ever invented by lawyers and politicians. It is an excuse used to perpetrate all kinds of oppression and of course enabled the rise of fascism...”

“All true, and yet job No. 1 for every elected official in this country is to keep people safe. That’s especially true of local leaders, who are the ones issuing the guidelines and orders that are keeping most Californians under a loose form of house arrest.

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“And to me and others on my side of the debate, the threat posed by the novel coronavirus seems far, far greater than the other side acknowledges.”

It’s time for a nationwide shutdown. Playing outbreak whack-a-mole with the coronavirus has been ineffective, and disastrously so. Stay-at-home orders in New York, California and elsewhere came too late to contain COVID-19, and most states have not come close to what our state has done. The L.A. Times Editorial Board urges President Trump to call on all governors to take what was once considered drastic action but now presents our only option for ending this pandemic. L.A. Times

There’s just one problem with Newsom’s stay-at-home order: It’s a legal mess. Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman, the Opinion section’s new legal affairs columnist, predicts that the directive will face litigation — and that litigation will probably prevail, no matter how necessary or even insufficient epidemiologists say Newsom’s action is. The order, Litman writes, “is the most expansive, even breathtaking, assertion of government power in at least 50 years in the U.S. It directly impinges on a series of fundamental constitutional rights, including the rights of association, travel and assembly.” L.A. Times

Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom can teach Trump something about telling the truth. The governors of New York and California, respectively, contrast sharply with the president in leveling with their constituents and delivering bleak assessments of our medical system’s ability to respond to a pandemic. And you know what? Americans appreciate their style, writes columnist Virginia Heffernan, especially when the rest of the country is subject to Trump’s daily dishing of wishful thinking and dangerous misinformation. L.A. Times

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More on COVID-19: Sen. Dianne Feinstein describes the major changes the federal government should make so we can better respond to the next pandemic. The coronavirus isn’t an excuse to rush through far-reaching laws that hurt L.A.'s businesses, says the editorial board. Gun stores are not essential businesses unless the coronavirus can be shot to death, says Scott Martelle. Digital editor Matthew Fleischer dispenses two pieces of coronavirus-related advice: First, Joe Biden must select Elizabeth Warren as his running mate, and second, a pandemic doesn’t let pet owners off the hook for cleaning up dog poop.

For daily updates on the pandemic, I cannot recommend strongly enough the L.A. Times’ free coronavirus newsletter. Go here to sign up for the newsletter; the rest of our coronavirus coverage, including information that can be accessed without a subscription, can be found here. Thanks for reading, and most important of all, please stay healthy if you still are.

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.

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