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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: What Cost Are You Willing To Pay?

Tommy Tomlinson

It always comes down to lives versus freedoms.

We could lock down even tighter, limit our movement even more, and the coronavirus would probably dissipate more quickly. But what would we have to give up? How many more people would lose their jobs? How restricted are we willing to be?

Or we could ease up, open some stores, send kids back to school, and we could get back to our normal lives a lot faster. But how many more lives would we lose? How many people are we willing to let die to get our freedoms back?

Those questions are starting to chafe at some of us. Protestors showed up at the North Carolina General Assembly this week, demanding that the state re-open businesses that have been shut down as non-essential during the virus. Similar groups have had rallies in other states.

Those protests are coming mostly from the right wing, where some folks are inclined to fight pretty much anything imposed by the government. There’s also the practical matter that the longer the virus lasts, the less chance President Trump has of getting reelected.

But there’s also some brutal human calculus involved. Millions of people are now out of work, and a lot of them were people who were already risking their lives to put food on the table. If you’re a coal miner or a logger, you have intimate knowledge that freedom comes with a cost. It’s also true that our economy is rarely kind to those at the bottom. Those stimulus checks won’t go very far.

So I understand wanting to reboot our lives as soon as possible. But the problem with throwing the doors open again is that we don’t know how big a monster we’re letting in.

Here’s one way to think about it. One of the biggest risks we accept as part of our lives is driving a car. We do our best to balance car safety with the freedom driving gives us. Last year, according to the National Safety Council, about 39,000 people died in car crashes in the United States. That’s what we consider to be the acceptable cost of driving in America. It’s an incredible cost – 39,000 human beings.

The coronavirus, as of Thursday afternoon, has already killed more than 34,000 Americans. How many will it eventually kill? Probably tens of thousands more. Maybe far more than that. It’s likely to depend on where we draw the line between lives versus freedoms.

Nobody knows where the perfect balance point is. If we did, this would be easy. There are no easy decisions right now. If we stay locked down, it’s going to hurt for a long time. But if we don’t, for a lot of people, the pain will be permanent.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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