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Want to protest COVID safety measures? Waive your right to medical care

Throughout my career as a physician and public health administrator, I experienced how different countries responded to a global public health crisis. Some of these countries demonstrated enormous political will to address the AIDS pandemic, while others did not. In the absence of coordinated political efforts, death tolls climbed and what’s known as “illness burden” overwhelmed the system.

Illness burden means the cost of caring for the sick and the cost a society incurs when a large segment of the population is unable to work. Unfortunately, the young, healthy workforce is the demographic most often taken out of circulation. The same thing is happening now with the coronavirus infection of COVID-19.

I fear the illness burden will rise here if protesters continue to demand beaches and non-essential businesses be reopened immediately. Their selfish attitude of wanting what they want now, with little regard for our healthcare workers, at-risk populations, and the communities where they live, appalls me. That any governor would consider appeasing them is beyond my comprehension. And I consider President Donald Trump’s tweets encouraging the protesters’ behavior tantamount to a criminal act.

I understand people’s fear of losing their livelihoods and their businesses. I empathize with their desire to get back to some semblance of normalcy. Yet I also know the consequences of making decisions that negatively affect others.

Governments are asking people to stay home, socially distance, wear a mask and wash hands — all of which seem doable for rational grownups in order to serve the greater good.

I have already lost two dear friends, a married couple of health professionals, to this virus. The husband was a healthy 75-year-old practicing pulmonologist in New Jersey who contracted COVID-19 from a patient and unknowingly infected his 74-year-old wife, a retired nurse with underlying health issues. They died within three days of each other. Then, one of my medical school classmates died a week ago, and several of my physician friends have been seriously ill and recovered.

I realize isolating and taking all the precautions is no fun, but it is vital and saves lives.

So here is a compromise: If you want to exercise your freedoms and do as you please, then hold rallies, leave the guns at home, stand six feet apart, wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, and don’t stand and shout — which spreads droplets. Hold placards instead.

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If you believe COVID-19 is a hoax to control the general population, fail to listen to scientists and experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci (who whom I worked with in the early 1990s), and stage crowded rallies, you should be required to sign a waiver stating you will refuse medical care if infected by the virus.

You must waive your right to have loved ones call paramedics or an ambulance when you cannot breathe, sign a “Do Not Resuscitate” order and forfeit the right to be put on a ventilator. People who follow government-mandated rules and use their common sense to prevent the coronavirus’s spread deserve access to these precious health resources more than reckless protestors.

The protestors’ need for “freedom” does not give them the right to put health care workers at risk or take away a hospital bed or respirator from someone who followed the rules and respected the value of other people’s lives.

Don’t want to sign such a waiver? Then I urge the protestors to control their impulses for another few months, so that we all may survive.

Dr. Dina Rosen is semi-retired Internal Medicine Doctor who did a fellowship in HIV/AIDS Medicine. She worked as a social worker and Public Health Administrator for non-profits including AIDS Project Los Angeles, the AIDS Service Center, and AIDS Healthcare Foundation. She spent 25 years working in the HIV/AIDS field around the world.

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