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Six weeks ago, America was a country mired in division. Politics, gender and race were the primary embers, fanned into flames each day by cable TV, social media, Hollywood and our elected leaders.
Then coronavirus was thrown into the mix. And as bad as our collective prejudices were before COVID-19, at least you kind of knew where you stood. Now everyone outside your immediate family is suspect. We've been segregated into the healthy and potentially contagious, the tested and the untested, people allowed less than six feet from us and everyone else.
Yet it doesn't stop there. Under the new economy, you're either a hoarder with a full pantry or a Johnny-come-lately desperately searching for toilet paper; an essential worker struggling to stay healthy or newly jobless struggling to get unemployment; at home enjoying vacation or sweating out unpaid leave.
President Trump has declared a National Emergency to free up federal funds, accelerate coronavirus testing and jump start production of medical supplies. Yet he's reluctant to declare a national quarantine. Instead of instituting a decisive stopgap that reportedly has proved effective in China, where the whole pandemic began in the first place, he's allowing the states to decide for themselves whether or not their residents should shelter in place.
Illinois, surprisingly, was one of the first four states to issue a statewide quarantine, along with New York, California and Connecticut. As of Friday, at least 216 million people in at least 22 states, 84 counties,17 cities and one territory were being urged to stay home.
But if you live in one of the other 28 states, you can still do pretty much whatever you want. Some, like Texas and Oklahoma, have limited quarantines. Others, like Wyoming and Nebraska, have no sequestering at all.
That's great if you don't like them Fed revenuers telling you what to do, but from a medical standpoint our crazy quilt of statewide quarantines is likely to create some serious health problems down the road. That is, if you even believe there's a pandemic, and it's not fake news, exaggerated reporting or deliberate propaganda being hyped the liberal media, Illuminati or Deep State.
And from what I've read in the papers, seen online and watched on TV, there evidently are a lot of people who think this crisis is either overblown, make-believe or at least something that's not going to affect them personally. They gripe that any precaution affecting their ability to go to bars, restaurants or church is tyrannical, a violation of their inalienable rights and a barrier to their divinely sanctioned pursuit of happiness.
Nowhere is the concept of "I do what I want" more apparent than in Florida, thanks to the thousands of college kids on spring break who have since returned home to share whatever diseases they might have picked up with their families. Yet even now their governor refuses to enforce full quarantine because of the impact it would have on the state's economy.
This idea that a worldwide pandemic can be dealt with on an ad hoc basis is further exacerbated by the idea that the worst of the pandemic will somehow burn out in a couple of weeks or, as the president suggests, by Easter.
Who knows? Maybe they're right. Maybe COVID-19 is overhyped, or simply propaganda put forth to make the current administration look bad. But here's the thing: all we have to do is wait a couple weeks to know for sure. Though I don't think we'll like the answer.
They hope to have a vaccine for COVID-19 within a few months.
Unfortunately, they'll never have a vaccine for stupidity.
• Bill Wimbiscus is actively sheltering in place, though mostly napping.