By Dr. Chaim Y. Botwinick

Over the past several weeks, we have witnessed a daunting increase in COVID-19 cases throughout the United States. Many of these infection rates, especially in the Sun Belt, are now surpassing the number of infected patients that was recorded at the beginning of the pandemic.

Whether we attribute this recent viral spread to a lack of social distancing or to folks who just refuse to wear a face covering, one thing is undeniable: our hospital ER facilities and ICU beds are filling up faster than ever before with young and old who are fighting desperately for their lives.

Many younger people are now testing positive. They are more asymptomatic than those ages 45 and above. That reality is not a consolation. It just means that many younger people are now becoming “super-spreaders” of this deadly virus an unknowingly infect their siblings, friends, parents, and grandparents — adding to the community spread of the disease.

Is it possible that this recent surge in infections could have been prevented? Nobody really knows for certain. It is certain that these increased infections began to spike as many of our communities in the United States rushed frantically to reopen high-touch and high-contact facilities and institutions … not to mention the frivolous and non-essential gatherings in highly populated areas.

This daunting reality is not the result of conspiracy theories or coincidental circumstance, let alone politics, but rather a simple and straightforward case of cause and effect, which should be undeniable. You touch fire and you get burned.

In hindsight, when “leadership” decisions were made to reopen our establishments, did any of the authorities or communal leaders really and truly believe that all would be fine in the absence of mandatory mask wearing and social distancing? Did they think twice about the ramifications, implications, or impact of not enforcing these life-saving requirements and guidelines? Was the political lure to satisfy and placate under pressure so important and compelling that the sanctity of human life needed to take a back seat?

Many leaders in the United States are only now beginning to admit to this abysmal failure in their judgment. As a result, many states and cities are now rolling back the reopening of establishments and mass gatherings. For all practical purposes this miscalculation has proven to be misinformed, misguided, and at best short-sighted. We are all now paying a high price for this negligence.

The one imperative that we as a community must now undertake relates to social distancing and mask wearing. It must not be about right vs. left or one political party versus the other, and, it’s not about hubris or appearances or about the thousands of people who do not believe in science and who snub their noses at empirical evidence. My dear friends, at the end of the day, it’s about civility, human decency, and respect for humanity and human life.

When we wear a face mask and maintain a safe social distance from each other, we are saying, “I care about you as much as you care about me.” If you choose not to wear a face covering in public, you are telling me that you don’t give a damn about me or anyone else around you.

What gives decent human beings the right to make that life-and-death decision for another person during this pandemic? It is cruel, selfish, and, above all, extremely dangerous. We are created in the image of G-d, and it is an imperative that we act in that manner. The sacred fragility of human life and civility hangs in the balance. What makes this challenge all the more critical is our power and ability to protect ourselves and others from a dangerous disease.

We are experiencing today an unfortunate microcosm of our society’s norms, standards, and values. When we throw caution to the wind and refuse to wear a face mask or maintain an appropriate social distance from one another during this pandemic, it screams out loud and clear that “it’s all about me, and nobody will tell me what is right or what is wrong … it’s my right to do as I please.”

What is our response when we see people disregarding social distancing by cramming together into public spaces (by choice)? Or, how do we react when we hear young adults proclaim that they have had enough of this stay-at-home stuff and need to go out and enjoy life? Do these people have any idea that they are potential virus “super-spreaders” to their friends, parents, grandparents, the community? No, they do not. Why, you may ask? Because there is nobody to model the proper behavior. The train of complacency has left the station and nobody is sounding the alarm bells. Where is the outcry? Where is the consternation? Where are municipal public mandates? Where is the sense of urgency?

We witness mature adults who refuse to wear face coverings or maintain safe social distances as they protest these restrictions. They complain that these restrictions are “not for me,” but rather for “those old folks” who are frightened to leave their homes to purchase groceries and desperately needed medicines. Really? Have we as a society sunk so low to the depths of self-indulgence, a self-absorbed, self-centered existence at the expense of others?

Where have we as a community and as a society gone wrong? Where is the value of precious human life and respect for the human condition? Where are the empathy, modeling, and moral imperative of communal leadership? Whatever happened to compassion for others?

Whether one does or does not believe in the science of social distancing or mask wearing, it is clear that the wearing of a face covering during this pandemic can reduce viral transmission by close to 50%. Don’t call it science if it makes you feel better. Call it “magic” or any other term that works for you. For the sake of humanity and for the sanctity of human life, please see it for what it is: a scary, agonizing, and painful disease which can be easily mitigated if people really and truly care.

Reprinted with permission from EJewishPhilanthropy.com.

Dr. Chaim Y. Botwinick is principal of the Hebrew Academy Community School, Margate, Florida; and an organizational consultant and executive coach. He has served in a variety of senior Jewish educational leadership positions. He is the author of Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness, Brown Books, 2011

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