Jim Beam column: Freedom is a two-way street

Published 11:53 am Sunday, August 22, 2021

We keep hearing a lot these days about “my personal freedom” whenever citizens protest the wearing of face masks or having to be vaccinated. School boards are having to endure long and sometimes contentious public meetings over those issues.

One parent last week said, “Masking up kids is not the answer. Choice is the answer because this is America….Why are we punishing those who choose not to wear masks? What good is a mask doing in society except splitting us apart.”

As a former high school civics teacher, I decided to look up “personal freedom” in a textbook I used many years ago. Here is what it said:

“If all men are created equal and all enjoy the same rights, it is obvious that each man cannot enjoy absolute or complete freedom. In his actions, each man must take account of the rights of all other men.

“Each man may do as he pleases only so long as he does not infringe upon the rights of others to do as they please … In other words, each man’s liberty is relative to the liberty of the whole.”

The Advocate reported that the need for the personal health and safety of every citizen of Louisiana has never been more threatened than it is today. The latest report says inside Louisiana’s hospitals, the battle against COVID-19 is as dire as ever.

Unvaccinated patients are dying in droves. People suffering from strokes and heart attacks can’t find beds. The military is sending in reinforcements to back up weary doctors and nurses.

Gov. John Bel Edwards is under fire for his mandate to wear face masks when indoors, but said he isn’t going to issue additional restrictions before the latest mask mandate proclamation expires Sept. 1.

Health experts seem convinced the state should be in lockdown right now. Dr. Kimberly Mukerjee, a pediatrician on the board of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, made an emotional plea to protect the unvaccinated children from the delta variant.

Here are the latest statistics released Friday: During the week ending Aug. 14, there were 88 kids admitted to the hospital with COVID-19, a sharp increase from the 10 kids admitted the week ending July 24. Among children up to age 4, 17.5 percent of COVID tests are positive. That rises to 28 percent among those ages 5 to 17.

Hospitalizations totaled 2,999. The number of patients on ventilators rose to 476, close to the record set during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic over a year ago. Another 56 people died of COVID-19 Thursday, pushing the weekly death toll to 333. Last week, 250 people died, and one month ago the weekly rate was 59 deaths.

Dr. Catherine O’Neal, the chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, said the people of this state don’t need the government to tell them what is safe. The public health advice remains the same — wear a mask, stand 6 feet apart, decrease your social activity and get vaccinated.

Do citizens who refuse to do those things have a right to endanger the health of others they come in contact with anywhere people gather? Remember that part about each man taking into account the rights of all other men?

The delta variant of COVID-19 is more transmissible and more deadly. So, do those who don’t wear masks have the right to potentially expose others to the disease? What about the rights of others to be safe?

Dr. Joe Kanter, the state’s chief medical officer, said, ”At the end of the day, if people want to have an adult conversation about whether the current state of affairs justifies a mask mandate, I think that’s a fair conversation.” However, it’s impossible in the current climate of protests to have an adult conversation.

Dr. Steve Nelson, dean of the LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine,  in a letter to The Advocate, said, “We are all targets of a deadly virus. It does not care who you are or what you believe. It shows no mercy. It silently spreads among us, entering our bodies without warning and takes our breath away as we die alone in isolation. Not even granting a parting wish to say goodbye to those we love.”

“So again, I ask you, ‘What would you do to save a life? Your mother’s. Your father’s. Your sister’s and brother’s. Your son’s or daughter’s. Your neighbor’s. A stranger. Your own.”

The answer from anyone who  cares about his fellow man is — “I will do whatever it takes.”