Shelter in Place or no Shelter in Place?

I know we have all been subjected to the muiltiple messages one way or another about whether we should continue to shelter in place in Georgia or not. Those who favor its end point out that we need to restart the economy and we can do it while observing CDC social distancing recommendations. Those who advocate its continuation point out that the number of daily new cases in our state is still going up. So what is a Georgian to do?

I will leave aside all the facts people are throwing around on both sides of the discussion and will try to look at the question from another perspective. What is the point of shelter in place?

Yes, one purpose is to preserve as best as possible the health of the people who keep themselves away from others to minimize the risk of infection.

Yet another purpose is to ensure that those who are infected (sometimes asymptomatically and even without knowing about it) do not spread the virus to others. Hence the masks. They do not protect ourselves... the protect others from us!

The first purpose is driven by self-preservation. If I remain sheltered in place, I'm more likely to get through this without getting sick or risking my life. From this perspective, to shelter or not to shelter is a personal choice; one could almost say a personal right. From this perspective, forcing people to stay at home is treating them like children and forcing them to do what is good for them. So when the choice comes to open or not to open a business, from this perspective it is a personal choice to take or not to take the risk.

The second purpose is driven by social responsibility. If I remain sheltered in place, I'm less likely to spread the virus or helping unwittingly to spread it. There are many individuals diagnosed positive who show little if any symptoms. Yet they are still carriers. Most children do not show symptoms, but they are definitely carriers and that was the reason behind closing the schools. From this perspective, to shelter or not to shelter is a choice that needs to be based on the state of the collective fights against the virus. One could say that the right to protect others trumps our individual right to walk around free. In this case, to open or not to open a business is still a personal choice - but now the risk to be evaluated is not that I take as an indiviaul but the risk of unwittingly becoming a new vector in the spread of the virus.

In Jewish tradition we are told that we are responsible for one another, and that the preservation of life (Pikuach Nefesh) is more important than anything else. To preserve a life we are allowed to work on Shabbat, to eat non-kosher food and many other things we would not do if we had another alternative. This tells me, that the welfare of the society in which we live (in the current situation, the welfare of Humankind) should take precedence over my personal preferences. We all have a responsibility to society; to those around us; neighbors, friends, members of our organizations and congregations. So when Governor Kemp tells us that we can open a bussiness, the question becomes whether being able to do something means that we should. It is a personal choice, but one I believe needs to be made looking over the potential consequences not just to ourselves, but to others as well. Freedom, in Jewish tradition, demands responsibility.



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