So far, COVID-19 has killed more than 90,000 Americans—at least that’s the official count. More than 1.5 million have been infected, and every day another 25,000 or so test positive. Despite this, across the country there is an increasing push to ease social-distancing restrictions. Florida, Wisconsin, and many other states are moving to reopen. Most public-health experts say it is too soon, and that easing restrictions will lead to a spike in transmissions.
Many of the people pushing to reopen see the issue in terms of freedom. They argue that quarantine and government-mandated closures infringe on their individual rights to do as they please, to make their own choices about health risks. The United States was founded on the idea that individual liberty—for white men, at the time—is inviolable, and for many of its residents this argument resonates deeply.
But there is more than one way to understand freedom—something public-health reformers in England 150 years ago found made all the difference. Their approach could provide a powerful blueprint for how to effectively counter the “my body, my choice” anti-quarantine arguments of today. [Continue reading…]