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Grappling with COVID-19: A tale of three governors

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s order of additional restrictions prior to Thanksgiving elicited expected responses from those who virtue signal their belief in science to those clutching their copy of the Constitution close to their chest.

However, the vehemence directed at Brown still caught me off guard.

Some of this expression can be attributed to the rural/urban divide. Many in Oregon feel the liberal northwestern corner of the state unfairly dominates the more conservative eastern and southern parts of the state. Solid liberal majority aside, I can understand some resentments.

I also readily acknowledge the gap between conservative and progressive approaches to both life and policy. We will always have these arguments, the sparing and competition between ideas isn’t only necessary for democracy, it makes it stronger.

But likening mask mandates or lockdowns to that of jack-booted fascism is beyond hyperbole. Misrepresenting a legal process as communist is divisive. Governors across America are using executive orders during this pandemic with one goal; to save lives.

Well, some are, some aren’t.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has valiantly taken a hands-off approach, by not issuing statewide stay-at-home orders early in the pandemic. She followed up with more inaction by refusing to issue a mask mandate at Trump’s July 3 celebration at Mount Rushmore and refusing to cancel the Sturgis motorcycle rally in August.

South Dakota has been rewarded for this rugged individualism by regularly posting among the states with the highest per capita number of new coronavirus cases, forcing hospitals to prioritize treatment of severe coronavirus cases over lesser ones, leading to that evil of socialism: rationing health care.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum was loath to wield the pen, hoping he could urge residents to use masks rather than order them to, before breaking down and issuing a mask mandate along with limits on social gathering.

He was too late to cancel the party, as ICUs have reached capacity in the state, forcing yet another order that allows North Dakota’s frontline health care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 to continue working in coronavirus units. Note to small-government types: this is not a great example to cite for problem solving at the local level.

Back in Oregon, Gov. Brown’s critics complain about the stifling of conservative values and infringing on personal rights. There are rumblings of another recall. Never mind that multiple prior recalls have failed. But that is the privilege of living in a free country: You can demonize a political opponent without fear of repercussion from the state for doing so.

This country is made up of laws. I am told this by many who feel that rule of law is tantamount to maintaining order and, in turn, our freedoms. And yet many of this law-and-order persuasion fail to see that while executive orders aren’t laws, they are lawful, their use spelled out in state constitutions.

Mask mandates and freeze orders are attempts to protect our health care workers and vulnerable neighbors. Infections are on the rise from people spending more time indoors during the colder fall and winter months. ICU hospital beds are approaching or at capacity in many regions. This was predicted, yet the seriousness of this virus continues to be denied in some quarters.

And now the holiday season is upon us. This year it’s simply not in our best interest to celebrate as we always have. Pandemic restrictions are not designed to undermine individual responsibility or deny religious freedom. They are asking people to be more socially responsible, compelling those that need it.

I was raised to believe that we have an ethic in this nation to look out for each other, that when a crisis arises, we come together. I don’t understand where it went. Please be safe. Please look out for each other and our health care workers by limiting gatherings. And please be kind.

André Alyeska of Corvallis is the founder of February 5, an organization that strives to change the tenor of discussion in order to create a broad middle ground. Follow him on Twitter @Andre_Alyeska.