To The Editor:

Dr. Patrick Ball's opinion pieces published in The Telegram on May 13th and June 3rd addressed the COVID-19 pandemic and the country's response to it.  The current surge in the number of covid-19 cases has prompted me to revisit his articles and opinions. In the first article, he expresses his lack of confidence in statistics because they can be manipulated to support any number of different conclusions. While admitting that the virus is a real health threat, he suggests that statistics are being used to convince the public that the virus and its effects are more serious than they really are.

More important to him, however, is the issue of personal freedom. He feels that government restrictions during the pandemic infringe to an extreme degree on our freedom of choice. He writes that individual freedom supersedes the expertise of Drs. Fauci and Brix (SIC) and the risk of contracting or transmitting a potentially fatal virus.  Several responses that appeared in The Telegram countered D. Ball's arguments. Mrs. Martin's and Dr. Hartwick's letters to the editor succinctly defended the importance of facts and statistics and their use in scientific efforts to understand and control the coronavirus. Dr. Neff's opinion piece of June 13th explored the reality of COVID-19, the wisdom of following expert advice, and the ethical considerations involving respect for those around you. Her perspective as a medical professional imbues the piece with greater weight.

The dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases that has accompanied the easing of safety restrictions highlights the need to continue stringent safety measures, and to respect those around us by following them. It does not matter if the restrictions---wearing masks, social distancing, and limited access to public places etc. -- are imposed by the government, private businesses, or individuals. Dr. Ball feels that the government and society have no business demanding we "stay home and be safe." Indeed, he writes "What is not okay is that someone other than (God) thinks they have the ability to save your life by telling you how to live it." 

I disagree with this fraught statement.  Of course we humans try to save each other’s lives by telling those around us how to live theirs. For millennia, the human race has established rules to make it possible for us to mindfully navigate the dangers and pleasures of this world. This is an earmark of civilization. From demanding that drivers stay in their own lanes, to forbidding the killing of others, societies have willingly agreed that the safety these rules afford supersedes the freedom of the drunk driver and the murderer. Freedom from chaos is the result. The Golden Rule is one way to express the limits on unchecked individual freedom. "Your freedom to swing your arm ends at my nose" is another.

Like Dr. Neff, I feel it is important not to look at most situations in life in a binary way. Doing so strips us of the freedom to explore various scenarios, solutions, options. It confines us to the "hide-from-it-or-fight it" illusion Dr. Ball envisions. Fear of very real dangers often inspires creative solutions. Human ingenuity has been in the spotlight lately: alternatives to traditional work and school practices, face-timing with friends and family, adaptations installed in public places to make it possible to go to essential businesses. Eating dinner with friends in parking lots, having bread baking ingredients delivered to your car, ordering sets of dumbbells online---do these activities smack of paralyzing fear?  Or a lively interest in finding new activities while social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands? 

It is expected that many of these accommodations will continue after we are free of the coronavirus because they are cheaper, more efficient, or more satisfying in some way. Following common sense and the expertise of professionals like Dr. Britx (SIC) frees us all to explore a myriad of possibilities safely, not just two extremes. I was struck by Dr. Ball's assertion that, on what he knew to be his last day on earth, he would want the freedom to pursue activities that allow him to enjoy life to the fullest, like taking the grandkids to a Reds game.

Since he acknowledges that COVID-19 is a bona fide health threat, one might infer that a person would wake up on his final day, stretch his arms above his head, and say, "I think I'll risk infecting people with a dangerous virus so I can go to a Reds game."  Not for a minute do I believe Dr. Ball intended such an inference.  Nor would I think of arguing with Marshal Dillon's advice that Dr. Ball gives his patients: “Be your own man and do your own thinking.” We should do exactly that. Get facts, check sources, listen to other opinions and weigh them against your responsibility to yourself and those around you. As his final reason to set individual freedom above safety precautions, Dr. Ball cites the statistic that you have only a one in thirty thousand chance of killing someone you come in contact with if you are COVID positive. An impressive number, comforting, even. Unless that one is my daughter.

Mary Jean Rieder-Reinhart, Jackson