As protests against Stay at Home orders have ramped up over the past two weeks, the US death toll has surpassed that of US deaths in the Vietnam War. The juxtaposition of these two realities has left me spinning. I can’t help but place images of armed quarantine protesters against the non-violent anti-war protests of the Vietnam era. Both groups protesting the same government: one group protesting needless deaths in a war that made no sense and one group protesting restrictions meant to prevent needless deaths in this pandemic.
What they have in common is fear of government overreach. They share a reaction to unknown/unpredictable timelines--the feeling of no-end-in-sight to something Awful. The big difference is that the government actions in one were perpetuating deaths, and in the other are an attempt to prevent deaths (and the other negative health impacts of this illness).
I get that it is hard. That the financial impact of stay-at-home-orders is huge, especially for small business owners who have mounting overhead costs without regular sales/income. The mental impact is huge: it is hard not knowing how long we are supposed to shelter in place, or how long we are supposed to avoid contact with other people, or when it will be safe to feel fully Human and Connected again. But the impact of this virus if we pretend it isn’t happening and go back to life as it was Before Covid would be far worse--and doing so would come with its own additional economic and mental health impacts.
Witnessing the disrespect by protesters of healthcare workers who daily endanger themselves and their loved ones to care for the sick, is maddening and heartbreaking. On this day, when this headline populates over and over again in my news and social media feeds, the speed with which America is turning on itself makes sense--it took years for this many US deaths to occur during the Vietnam War, and years for the anti-war movement to develop. This pandemic has been a (rapidly) moving target from the beginning, compounded with often unreliable information coming from sources we collectively want to turn to in times of crisis. It is much easier to lash out at people than to lash out at a virus--people undoubtedly provide a more satisfying response. The condensed timeline, high levels of uncertainty and fear make it easy to understand why people are coming unglued.