Opinion: Daily Journal

Shelter in place isn’t sustainable

Gov. Roy Cooper announced an end to sit-down dining at restaurants and private clubs in a March 17, 2020 news conference. (Screenshot from UNC-TV)
Gov. Roy Cooper announced an end to sit-down dining at restaurants and private clubs in a March 17, 2020 news conference. (Screenshot from UNC-TV)

Over the past two weeks, Gov. Roy Cooper and local officials have imposed a regulatory regime of increasing severity on North Carolinians. Their stated goal is to slow the spread of COVID-19 so the number of cases requiring hospitalization won’t shoot far above the maximum capacity of hospitals and other health providers.

Their goal is not to contain the spread of the virus in the long run. Most officials grant that a large swath of the population already has been or eventually will be infected. In the vast majority of cases, the infected will experience either mild symptoms or none at all. But some will be hospitalized, and a small share — disproportionately older and suffering from serious preexisting conditions — will not survive their bout with the virus.

Did Cooper and local officials make the right call? I don’t know for certain. Neither do you, to be blunt. They are acting on limited, incomplete, and problematic data. I recognize they are under extreme stress, likely sleep-deprived, and facing a set of unattractive policy choices.

I don’t envy the position they’re in. I respect their public service and pray for them. You should, too. But that doesn’t mean we should simply accept their decisions without scrutiny or complaint.

Our government hasn’t just shut down businesses (some potentially for good), thrown hundreds of thousands out of work, and disrupted the daily lives of millions of North Carolinians with no clearly articulated standard for when the dictates will be lifted. Our government has also suspended our basic liberties as citizens of a free society.

I have been ordered, under threat of arrest and imprisonment, to minimize my contact with friends and family who live across town or in another city. I have been ordered, under threat of arrest and imprisonment, not to assemble with others to express our jointly held opinions or practice our jointly held faith.

If you think I am arguing the government should never have the power to do these things, you are jumping to the wrong conclusion. As an advocate of limited, constitutional government, I grant that infectious disease is one of the few cases in which highly coercive action may be required to protect public health and safety. It is one of the rare exceptions to the rule that private property should be inviolate and that informed consent, not government dictate, is the proper way for people to manage the risks and rewards of life in a civilized society.

The threshold for government to resort to such measures should be extremely high, however. And I get very suspicious when I see public officials justify actions such as shelter-in-place orders with the claim that “if even a single person’s life is saved, it will be worth it.”

Let me be crystal clear: Anyone who says that should be kept far, far away from wielding governmental authority at any level. They lack the knowledge and judgment to make reasonable public policy. They exhibit a basic ignorance of how free societies work.

If North Carolina set a maximum speed limit of 25 miles per hour on every road and street, we would see fewer traffic fatalities. If North Carolina prohibited swimming pools, we would see fewer drownings. And if North Carolina issued a shelter-in-place order every year from December to March, we would see fewer deaths from influenza and other familiar but deadly diseases.

For progressives who don’t yet get the point, try this one: Every year, a small but tragic number of murders are committed by people who are living illegally in the United States. If we strictly enforce immigration laws and deport as many unauthorized aliens as we can, many of those murders will not occur.

The draconian response to COVID-19 has imposed grave economic and social consequences on North Carolinians and other Americans. They won’t shelter in place for months. They can’t. And they’ll become increasingly impatient with leaders who offer them platitudes instead of a practical plan for moving forward.

John Hood (@JohnHoodNC) is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on “NC SPIN,” broadcast statewide Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on UNC-TV.



  • Wareagle82

    There are no elegant, 100% effective answers, no matter how much we wish there were. A little perspective might be nice: this virus is not an instant death sentence for all who contract it, the “exponential growth” claim ignores that such a trend is not indefinite, and it’s hard to ignore how an order such as Cooper’s has no impact on the likes of Cooper. Let me know when he or some other elected official either refuses the salary or hands it to a relief agency.

  • Allan Thompson

    I guess I was waiting for an alternative at the end and it just stopped. You didnt even try to argue the sensation grabbing headline. Glad you got that off your chest.

  • Marcus127

    I do not shoot a firearm in a crowded neighborhood and I do not want someone else doing so either.

    There are times one accepts commonsense and voluntarily gives up a bit of freedom for the greater good.

    This is very much the same thing.

    I am glad to sit home….and being retired that places no great burden on me.

    Had I a family to feed….rent to pay….and needed to work….to care for my family I would do my best to do so….taking reasonable precautions out of that same need…..to care and provide for my family.

    What is difficult about this is the Government decreeing who, how, when, and for how long we not be able to get out and about to earn that living and be able to put that food on the table….and keep a roof over us.

    My gripe is how and who decides what an essential business or trade is….and what is not.

    Trucks need to haul groceries….trucks need diesel…drivers need food and sanitation facilities….trucks need Tires, repairs, parking places….people need cars to get to the grocery store…clerks need to get to work…some need day care for kids….and on…and on…and on.

    What is the definition of “Essential”?

  • TrabGurl

    I have a couple of points to make:

    1) These policies & directives via Gov. Cooper (his Executive Orders) — are just that. AN EXECUTIVE ORDER. EO’s are NOT LAW. They are directives for his executive branch employees ONLY to follow. NOT an ORDER that the General Public MUST follow. Again… EOs are NOT a LAW!

    2) This COVID-19 hysteria is illogical, and very dangerous. I honestly do NOT believe that we have a “Certified Test” to confirm, that a human being is infected w/ COVID-19. I really don’t.

    Here in the USA, we have established certain protocols, in the medical industry, that require much research & study. I don’t believe that the CDC, or the FDA, nor Pfizer, Bayer, GSK, nor DUKE Medical Center or Johns Hopkins… or any other pharma / Medical company… has had the time to complete a thorough study of this particular virus. Where are the White Papers? Where is the testing data on lab rats and/or primates? If you look up the little bit of data provided by the CDC, you’ll notice the test kits are marked with “For Research use Only. Not for Diagnostic Purposes.” — Same thing if you view LabCorp’s COVID-19 page, & look up the equipment that they are utilizing to perform these said “Confirmed Cases” — The Equipment (Fisher-Scientific’s QuantStudio 7 Flex) states plainly — “For Research ONLY — Not for Diagnostic Use” … AND, on top of that, the QuantStudio 7 is NOT a testing machine; It’s a replicating machine to only ‘Duplicate’ the samples.

    Don’t take my word on this… do your OWN homework folks.

    If we look at the most recent data via Johns Hopkins (3/31/20 @ 6:33am) — NC has 1,379 Confirmed Cases of Covid-19. With approximately 10.44 Million residents in NC, that equates to 0.013% (13 one thousandths of 1%) of our population.

    Yes… people are prone to viruses. Take some precautions. Use some common sense.

    • sean dail

      That all sounds really thoughtful. Go ahead and follow through on it, and maybe you won’t even get a chance to admit that you were wrong.

    • John_Burns

      Pretty much everything you wrote is incorrect.

  • sean dail

    I didn’t hear your solution, John. Lots of philosophizing and analogies, but none of it quite applicable to the problem at hand. Of course it is easy to question the folks who make the tough decisions. But my goodness, even Donald Trump, a guy who sees conspiracies behind every corner and chooses suspicion first, is beginning to see where this is headed. Do what you have to do personally, but please don’t risk even higher death rates with sensational headlines.