EDITORIAL: COVID protests ‘selfish’ indeed

York Dispatch editorial board
John Dahl of State College protests statewide shutdowns during a Reopen PA rally in Harrisburg Friday, May 15, 2020. About one thousand protesters participated at the rally in front of the capitol building. Bill Kalina photo

Give John Dahl of State College credit: At least he comes out and admits it.

Dahl was among the hundreds of protesters who turned out at the statehouse in Harrisburg on May 15 to demonstrate against Gov. Tom Wolf’s continuing public health efforts aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

The scrum featured a wide assortment of banners: paranoid (“I Fear My Government More than COVID-19”), confusing (“It’s Not About the Virus”), beside-the-point (“Science: 99.5% of Us are Healthy”), missing-the-point (“I’m a Law-abiding Citizen Under House Arrest”) and simply pointless (“Wolf is the Virus”).

But Dahl’s sign, captured in a photo by Dispatch photographer Bill Kalina, was altogether different: simple, straightforward, honest. It read: “Selfish and proud.”

It’s actually nothing to be proud of, but he’s right: Demonstrators insisting on ignoring a fatal virus are selfishly putting themselves, their families and the general public at unnecessary risk.

Refusing to engage in social distancing is selfish.

Not wearing a mask when social distancing isn’t possible is selfish.

Insisting the state reopen prematurely is selfish.

When you see, for example, photos of maniacal-looking, armed protesters shouting into the faces of security guards from a foot or two away, they are not only being aggressive and provocative, they are being selfish.

And among those they’re putting their interests ahead of are the medical workers who have been on the front lines throughout this now 10-week-long public health crisis.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northum identified this very problem when criticizing demonstrations against lockdowns in his state last week: “What they’re doing at the end of the day — which I think is so selfish — they’re putting our health care providers … at risk, and that’s wrong,” the Democratic lawmaker said on MSNBC. “I would ask them to think about that.”

Selfishness has been baked into arguments to reopen the economy at the highest levels. Texas’s Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick infamously declared “there are more important things than living” in arguing that economic activity trumps concerns about a fatal pandemic. Grandma as collateral damage in the interest of a strong economy.

And who’s been more selfish than President Donald Trump, who sees the reopening of the nation’s businesses only in terms of his own personal and political interests?

But being considerate of others is not exactly a hallmark of the right.

Republicans’ 2017 tax-cut bonanza overwhelmingly (and selfishly) benefited their rich and super-rich supporters.

Their refusal to acknowledge climate change selfishly places the interests of their big-business backers ahead of the masses who are already suffering the effects of a warming planet.

And their standard-bearer in the White House has served, almost exclusively, his own interests and the interests of like-minded supporters — enriching himself, his family and his allies while turning his back on America’s neediest.

So, the selfishness is not a bug, as they say, it’s a feature.

And it’s a feature that we can do without as York County enters its first full week in the state’s “yellow phase” of reopening. Despite public support for a slower reopening and a coronavirus caseload that, were Pennsylvania a country, would put it in the top 20 worldwide, stay-at-home orders have been lifted locally and businesses are opening their doors.

To all those who have taken to the streets to loudly clamor for this step, a humble request: Practice social distancing, wear masks when in public, follow new guidelines established by restaurants and businesses.

In other words: Make us proud; don’t be selfish.