Ruben Navarrette: The way to beat the coronavirus is to study up — not go shopping

Summary: Judging from those who want to re-open the economy before it is safe — like a stubborn patient who tries to bolt from a hospital while still connected to an IV — many of our citizens are dumber than a box of rocks.

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
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SAN DIEGO — For Americans, here is the problem: The coronavirus is much smarter than we are.

Judging from those who want to re-open the economy before it is safe — like a stubborn patient who tries to bolt from a hospital while still connected to an IV — many of our citizens are dumber than a box of rocks.

Exhibit A: Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia. If you feel the need to get a tattoo, a manicure, or a workout during this pandemic, head to the Peach State. Kemp is opening those businesses this week. Coming soon: restaurants and movie theaters.

That last one makes a lot of sense. All I can think about is sitting for two hours in a dark room next to dozens of strangers, with limited air flow. It's not like you can see thousands of movies in the safety of your own home. Why doesn't someone invent a way to do that?


Even President Trump disagrees with Kemp's decision to open up the Georgia economy, although Trump says that governors can make up their own minds. Texas and Florida are also opening up. Federalism is, it turns out, a suicide pact for some.

The good news is that it is the customer — and not Kemp — who will decide when it's safe to have lunch or go shopping.

Nationwide, a recent AP/NORC survey about COVID-19 restrictions found that 61% of Americans think the crackdown is about right, 26% think it doesn't go far enough, and only 12% think it goes too far.

We're playing catch up. We still don't know how the plague travels, how long it lasts on surfaces, what the full list of symptoms are, whether you can contract it more than once, what treatments are effective, or how long it will take to develop a vaccine.

With 26 million people out of work in the last several weeks, and the U.S. economy on the ropes, people are getting antsy. Many of our citizens have legitimate concerns about losing jobs, businesses and savings. But, if we flood the marketplace too soon, our society could suffer a relapse. Then, what will we lose?

As I type these words, the current U.S. death toll from COVID-19 is approaching 50,000. If we slide backward, we could easily be looking at as many as 80,000 deaths from COVID-19 by Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer.

Speaking of summer, not every American who is jonesing to get outside wants to go back to work. Some people want to go to the beach. They think what Thomas Jefferson meant by "unalienable rights" was the right to surf.

Here in Southern California, some people have come down with a severe case of entitlement. In Encinitas, California — a coastal town north of San Diego where the average home price is $1.23 million —protesters recently condemned the state's first-in-the-nation "shelter-at-home" order, which has been in place since March 19. One woman told a reporter: "We want to surf! We want to hike! That's why we live here!"


So what if some of us peasants wind up on a ventilator? Marie Antoinette is alive and well, and living by the shore.

Other Americans worry about losing what they consider their birthright: freedom. We don't know the first thing about the topic. How could we? Most of us have never lived without it. The ignorance is bipartisan. If we propose the slightest restriction on owning a gun, or getting an abortion, special interest groups with a hair trigger will howl about how this is "fascism."

Back in Georgia, Kemp said: "If people don't want to go out, they don't have to."

We've heard variations of that argument before. The left quips, "If you don't like abortion, don't have one." The right snarks, "You don't get to give away my 2nd Amendment rights."

It's time to smarten up, folks. Americans are not just a bunch of individuals roaming through society in giant plastic bubbles that keep us from bumping into other people. We're part of a community. Rights come with responsibilities — and some of those responsibilities are to one another. Chief among them is the duty to accept that exercising our right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" without the proper care can cost others the most important item on that list: the first one.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at

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