A letter appeared in the May 19th Forum which began by asserting that "we are being turned into a police state by a bunch of opinionated scientists who pretend they know how to protect our health by recommending to naive government officials that the nation, in fact the world, be put under house arrest."
My own first experience with a quarantine occurred in the early 1950s when I was 7 years old, a second grader with a classmate from my general neighborhood who was quarantined with his entire family because they had contracted a highly infectious disease. I no longer remember what the disease was -- or for that matter, if we were ever actually told what the disease was. I remember being curious enough to ride my bike along the sidewalk in front of his house, where I saw a notice labeled in big, black letters like a building permit: QUARANTINE. The order was issued not by the police, but by the county health department where I lived.
So much for being a police state.
Perhaps because the one boy was a classmate who was not allowed to attend school while the quarantine was in force, our teacher may have felt it was necessary to explain to our class what was happening. The restriction, she explained, was not permanent; it would last only until the contagious disease was medically under control. We were only 6 or 7 years old, but we were all acquainted with what the word contagious meant. In an era when measles ,mumps, chicken pox, and even polio were part of the world in which we lived, parents and teachers alike made sure we all knew that contagious meant you could catch it from somebody who already had it.
So, the order was issued by the public health authorities and not by the police; the order was publicly posted; it was temporary, not permanent; and enforced isolation was associated with such an event. This is not a new development: I first experienced it as a child almost 70 years ago, and I expect the first time it was implemented in the United States was long before that.
Nobody likes the restrictions and limitations public health authorities have imposed on us. But restrictions, limitations, separation and isolation are the only organizes responses we have available to us until vaccines and other therapies become available. Until then, I think we would all do well to avoid hyperbole and try our best to endure the inconveniences and constraints as best we can, realizing the burden of doing so falls very unevenly across our community. Those on whom these burdens fall most heavily deserve all the understanding and support we can muster during this very difficult time.
Pearce lives in Fargo.