As the world begins to transition to a post-pandemic society, it can be frightening to see new health policies being suggested and implemented on the federal or state level. One such example was the CDC’s decision to shorten social distancing measures in schools from 6 to 3 feet. Although the research behind this decision is very credible and thorough, some teachers’ unions aren’t entirely convinced that these new measures will be effective. This change in policy demonstrates how leaders have to balance the public’s desire to return to normalcy (e.g. more students in-person) with the ever-present dangers of COVID-19 (e.g. the possibility of mass transmission of the virus).
However, finding this balance may be virtually impossible. This dilemma forces government officials to decide what is more important: personal freedoms or safety.
Politicians that choose to favor sovereignty tend to view the pandemic as an individual problem. In other words, if each person took it upon themselves to wear a mask and social distance, then the pandemic would be controlled. Since individualism is linked with conservatism, these politicians tend to be Republicans in the United States. As cases go down, these leaders are more likely to be very loose with their restrictions, with some going as far as reopening “everything” and getting rid of mask mandates. Although this is beneficial for businesses, it is also very risky due to the chances of cases rebounding. Considering that Republican areas already tend to have lax COVID-19 restrictions, loosening them even more may prolong the pandemic even further.
In terms of vaccination rates, more of these populations tend to be eligible compared to other areas. To summarize, these kinds of politicians are betting that COVID-19 cases won’t get any worse and that it would be best to open up now to not miss out on any lost revenue.
On the other hand, politicians that favor safety are more likely to be very cautious with reopening their states/regions. These leaders tend to have a more collectivist mindset; in other words, if everyone decided together that they would wear masks and social distance, then the pandemic would be controlled. Democrats in the United States tend to favor these policies and acknowledge scientific research before they make new COVID-19 policy decisions. However, because these majority-Democrat areas are in prolonged lockdowns, the mental health of their citizens greatly suffers. While leaders with this perspective have seen mixed success in the United States, they have been very successful in countries like New Zealand and Vietnam. In terms of reopening in the United States, they have been relaxing their restrictions in general, but mask mandates are still in effect. To sum up, these kinds of leaders are likely to wait for approval from the CDC or the WHO so that they can fully reopen because they would rather risk losing revenue than lose more of their citizen’s lives to COVID-19.
Overall, politicians’ views on how to best reopen post-pandemic have will greatly determine how your community will rebuild itself and how quickly things can go back to normal. As an addendum, I would like to point out that valuing sovereignty or valuing safety isn’t a mutually exclusive choice. In fact, it is much more of a spectrum. Now the challenge remains: can leaders find a way to balance both?