I recently read a New York Times article about the fact that “the onus has fallen on individual Americans to decide how much risk they and their neighbors face from the coronavirus — and what, if anything, to do about it.”
In my opinion, this is exactly the way it should be, and exactly the way it should have been all along, from the beginning of the pandemic.
The author of the article, Benjamin Mueller, characterizes calculating one’s covid risk as “a fraught exercise.” He writes that “many scientists said they also worried about this latest phase of the pandemic heaping too much of the burden on individuals to make choices about keeping themselves and others safe.”
“All of the layered protections we’ve been talking about for the entire pandemic, each of those is being stripped away,” public health professor Marney White says in the article. “It’s impossible to calculate risk in these situations.”
I completely disagree with the implication that being responsible for making one’s own covid-related choices is a bad thing. The onus should fall on individuals to make decisions about their own health and safety, because making one’s own decisions is a fundamental right. It is liberating, not burdensome, to have one’s freedom of choice respected. It is very much a good thing that people are no longer being forced to take safety measures that may not make sense to them given their wishes, needs, and preferences.
Quite frankly, for many of the “layered protections” that White mentions, it is a good thing that they are being taken away. Measures such as stay at home orders, vaccine mandates, and required testing violate people’s rights and therefore should never have been instituted in the first place. Being able to live without one’s fundamental rights being violated is an essential part of a life worth living. This is the opposite of a burden.
It may very well be true that it is impossible to calculate risk with a high degree of certainty. But freedom of choice is a fundamental right, no matter how much or how little information about risk is available. I disagree with the implication that it is somehow preferable to have one’s freedom of choice taken away than to make choices in a situation with incomplete information.
It is up to each individual person to make choices according to his or her own preferences, values, and risk tolerance. It is up to each individual person to decide how much or how little research to do, and how much or how little information to obtain during the decision-making process. Sometimes very clear and precise information is available, and sometimes it is not. Regardless, making choices for oneself is a fundamental right that everyone needs and deserves.
A couple of other notes:
The article states that two thirds of people “have not received the critical security of a booster shot.” But the security provided by a booster shot is not critical, as people have a fundamental right to make their own decision about whether or not to get a booster shot (or an initial vaccine, for that matter).
Also, one mathematics professor who is quoted in the article makes a very wrong comparison. The professor, Cameron Byerley, explains that she told her mother-in-law that having a 10% risk of dying from a covid infection (as was the case early in the pandemic) is the same as being told you are going to die one out of every 10 times you use the bathroom. But this is a faulty comparison. Every person goes to the bathroom at least once per day (a conservative estimate). If you are told that you will die one out of every 10 times you use the bathroom, that means that death from going to the bathroom is inevitable. Most people, in fact, will die within a week. Getting covid, on the other hand, happens much less frequently than going to the bathroom! Unlike with going to the bathroom, it is unusual for someone to get covid more than once within a year. So no, dying one out of every 10 times you use the bathroom is not like dying one out of every 10 times you get covid. A 10% chance of dying for something that you do every day is very different from a 10% chance of dying for something that happens at most a handful of times in a lifetime.