Opinion: Personal freedom is not all it’s cracked up to be


Published: 09-10-2023 7:00 AM

Millie LaFontaine lives in Concord.

I’m not sick, but I have COVID. “What’s the problem?” you say, “You’re not sick!” The problem is that I could have unknowingly exposed dozens, if not scores of people as I freely went about my business in the days prior to my positive test. The problem is that not all of those exposed people might be as fortunate as I have been.

Furthermore, the problem is that I was wrong if I thought even for a second that COVID was going away in this country. With new versions of the coronavirus and people refusing to pay attention, we’re heading in the wrong direction this fall.

Even from the confines of my house, I’m still hearing the rants of politicians and other people who should know better. They claim the federal government overstepped its bounds by mandating public health measures and robbing people of their beloved “freedom” to do as they please. They choose not to recognize that no one has the “freedom” to put others at risk, that my freedom ends where yours begins.

They rail against policies meant for the greater good. In their world, individual “rights” trump the health and safety of others. They contend that the federal government “forced” people to get vaccinated. How unjust and tyrannical! I can just imagine all those microchips that conspiracy theorists warned us about, coursing through the blood of those receiving vaccines, burrowing into our brains, so Big Brother could control us.

I know that, on so many levels, the reason I am not sicker right now is that I was able to receive every vaccine and booster I was eligible for. Thank you, public health experts. Thank you, federal government.

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And thank you that a smaller percentage of the people who live in the Northeast truly believe in the poppycock about microchips!

Sadly, more folks do believe that stuff in other parts of the country. In regions of the country where the protests against public health policies and government interference in people’s lives are the loudest, the health of everyone around the protesters is affected.

There is growing evidence that even something as basic as life expectancy is tied to the acceptance or rejection of public health interventions, federal health policies, and democratic principles. Colin Woodard of the Nationhood Lab at Salve Regina University, argues this forcefully in a recent Politico article.

According to Woodard, there are parts of the country, like the Northeast, where COVID vaccination rates are higher, where Medicaid expansion has been enacted, where rates of gun violence are generally lower, and attitudes toward democracy generally favor the common good over individual liberty. And it turns out that in these regions, people of all incomes and races do better and have a higher life expectancy. In regions where rugged individualism is viewed as the ultimate good, the Southeast, for example, life expectancy throughout the region is lower, also regardless of income or race.

Our state government has been more of an advocate of personal liberty, and has been lagging behind the region in enforcing things like vaccine mandates. It has done less than the rest of the region to actively promote what are ultimately public health measures, like protecting our air and water, or directing our state away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy. And unfortunately, as the “Live Free And Die” state, politicians have bent over backwards to curry favor with the gun lobby and gun manufacturers, with all the public health implications of that. Maybe all I can say is it’s good that we are situated in the Northeast, and not somewhere else.

I am grateful that I’m not sick despite my positive COVID test. But I am more convinced than ever that my personal liberty is the least of my priorities right now. I am now out of the house with a mask, as my doctor and the Centers for Disease Control advise. And I will think triply hard in the months ahead about the health of the people I choose to spend time with. I will have a very low threshold for testing for COVID, wearing a mask, or staying away altogether from people I know to be vulnerable.