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State Leaders vs. The People: The Ethics of Obeying Public Health Measures

How long does it take for people to flood the streets and object to the ethics and principles of public health? From the lessons learned from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it only takes weeks. In quick succession, people lost their loved ones, their jobs, and their mind during the initial phases of the ongoing coronavirus crisis. By May 2020, state leaders in the United States loosened coronavirus restrictions, allowing residents to resume life beyond their house walls. Consequently, people flocked to beaches, restaurants, and in-door establishments, only worsening the pandemic — as many people turned their heads against safe public health measures. In the following months, COVID-19 related deaths skyrocketed, forcing state officials to once again enforce restrictions. Now, ten months later, as one of the world's largest vaccination campaigns is underway, state leaders have dropped almost all coronavirus restrictions in the U.S., amid a dramatic spike in cases and hospitalizations. Unfortunately, history is repeating itself; as both parties, state leaders, and residents are abruptly resuming a back-to-normal lifestyle. While many people feel frustrated not being able to resume a pre-pandemic lifestyle, the only way to fully get back is to follow health measures until the transmission rate of COVID-19 is relatively low, and the nation as a whole reaches herd immunity. Now more than ever, it is important to learn from our mistakes, remain vigilant, and proceed with caution in the subsequent months to avoid a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections.

The vicious disease has sickened more than 30.3 million people in the United States and 549,817 people have died from the virus, according to the COVID-19 Data Repository by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The road to a back-to-normal life is disordered and chaotic. Over the last year, public health officials have been silenced, ridiculed, and sent death threats, for simply speaking from their expertise. The U.S. is experiencing the first pandemic of the information age, where misinformation is spreading like wildfire over the internet. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, told CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, "I wouldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams that people who object to things that are pure public health principles...and don't like what you [Sanjay Gupta] and I the word of science, that they actually threaten [us]," Fauci stated (Stein, NPR). In a time when many people are hurting from the loss of their loved ones, people must virtually unite in fighting this pandemic by educating one another about safe ways to prevent infection.

As observed in the interactive line and area chart below, which showcases daily and cumulative trends in the number of COVID-19 cases, deaths, viral (RT-PCR) laboratory tests, the incidence rate per 100,000 population, hospitalizations, and vaccinations for the United States. Using the "enter series to show," toggle, selecting new cases, total cases, and deaths will display historical data denoting spikes and decreases in cases. Currently, as of March 29, 2021, the U.S. is averaging more than 60,000 cases a day, which is dangerous, as spikes can occur in the near future.

Understanding this historical data is pivotal if residents wish to resume a pre-pandemic lifestyle. When coronavirus restrictions were relaxed in early July 2020, confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths followed, as noted in the graph above. It is crucial to continue safe health measures; wearing face masks and social distancing until the transmission rate is significantly low. According to a COVID-19 database by The New York Times, which tracks coronavirus restrictions and mask mandates for all 50 states, nearly all states have dropped mandatory mask mandates, fully opened all state businesses, and do not require social distancing measures for businesses that are allowed to open, in a March 29, 2021 report (Lee, Jasmine C., et al, The New York Times).

The image below is from the COVID-19 database by The New York Times which shows U.S. states and territories that impose restrictions to slow infections. As observed, more than half of U.S. states no longer require mandatory masks and have fully opened businesses during a peak of new infections.

The dilemma of reopening business and relaxing coronavirus restrictions is a two-fold issue. On one hand, three vaccines have been approved for “emergency use” by The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one antiviral drug has been FDA approved, and the U.S. has administered more than 145.8 million vaccine doses into the arms of Americans (CDC COVID Data Tracker). Additionally, The Federal Reserve has sent out millions of stimulus checks to Americans, hoping to bounce back America's economy. Ground-breaking milestones have reached.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, COVID-19 cases are picking up dramatically again. The U.S. is recording a weekly average of 69,239 new COVID-19 cases per day, a 16% increase compared to a week ago, according to an analysis of data compiled by the COVID-19 Data Repository by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. In addition, threatening SARS-CoV-2 variants and mutations are circulating in the U.S. (CDC COVID Data Tracker). This is a grave threat, as "SARS-CoV-2 variants determine implications for COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, or vaccines authorized for use in the U.S.," says a report that a CDC official announced on March 24, 2021 (CDC COVID Data Tracker Weekly Review). This issue lands on two people: state leaders and residents. State leaders must reassure their residents that the vaccines that have received “emergency use,” are 66.3-95% effective against preventing SARS-CoV-2, and safe public health measures must continue until 90% of the state is fully inoculated and the nation as a whole reaches herd immunity. Similarly, those who have been/or have not been inoculated against SARS-CoV-2 must not rush to a back-to-normal life too soon. Weighing in on this discussion is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Dr. Rochelle Walensky expressed grave concern regarding the dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. (Dunn, CNBC). On Monday (March 29, 2021), Dr. Walensky remarked, "the U.S. is facing impending doom as daily COVID-19 cases begin to rebound once again" (Miller, Associated Press). While the U.S. is administering more than 2.78 million vaccines a day, and vaccine eligibility is expanding, more contagious variants such as the B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1 variant are spreading faster every day, as millions of U.S. residents are still susceptible to infection (CDC COVID Data Tracker). Through Dr. Walensky's expertise as an experienced virologist and epidemiologist, ensuring that the American people are proactively getting vaccinated and remaining socially distanced and wearing masks, hopefully, cases can drop in the following weeks.

The map below shows U.S. states and territories that have reported cases of variants of concern. As of March 29, 2021, nearly all states and territories have reported cases of lineage B.1.1.7, a variant of SARS-CoV-2, "reported to be 40%–80% more transmissible than the wild type SARS-Cov-2" (COVID-19 Pandemic, Wikipedia).

President Biden's latest endeavor during the pandemic is to "vaccinate the U.S. population, with the goal of getting the nation closer to normal by July 4,” 2021 (The White House, Briefing Room). Countless public health measures must change to not only vaccinate the vast majority of the U.S. population but stricter public health measures must also be reinstalled to accomplish Biden's goal. Unfortunately, the leaders whom the people elected have chosen to abandon their duties and let “all businesses and families ... [to] have the freedom to determine their own destiny,” as Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, a Republican, is an example of one governor who has lifted the mask mandate and capacity limits on all businesses, as he made that remark, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Across Texas, business owners are grappling with hard decisions now that Governor Abbott has lifted coronavirus restrictions and ended the statewide mask mandate. Abbott’s order will leave it to business owners to decide whether to require customers to wear masks inside their establishments. Some business owners say, "they will keep coronavirus restrictions in place, but some business owners worry those decisions could anger potential customers" (Garcia-Navarro, NPR).

In a public health crisis, residents should look to state leaders for guidance, rather than adding more burden to their already stressful life. Small businesses owners like Juan Meza, a waitress at Danette’s Urban Oasis, in Fort Worth, Texas, told, The Texas Tribune, “as a small-business owner, it’s putting us in the firing line where you have to make the best decision for you and your business and you’re going to be fighting people who are literally celebrating in the streets'' (Agnew, Duncan, et al., The Texas Tribune). According to the CDC COVID Data Tracker, the percent of the total population fully vaccinated in Texas is one of the lowest in the country — under 12%. Many former White House Coronavirus Task Force members pushed for longer in-person business closures, mask mandates, and social distancing measures, however, governors felt that residents needed to let themselves decide when to loosen restrictions. (Gupta, CNN).

The interactive map below highlights how Texas counties are performing during the vaccine rollout. The share of residents fully vaccinated in Texas is one of the lowest in the nation. This map serves as a visual for how residents are responding, given numerous coronavirus restrictions have been dropped in the state.

On Monday (March 29, 2021), President Biden warned about a rising number of coronavirus cases, asking governors and other officials to reinstate mask mandates. “This is deadly serious. ... If we let our guard down now we could see the virus getting worse, not better,” the President said at the White House (Wagner, John, et al., The Washington Post).

Amid a public health crisis, some residents have practiced safe health measures, while others were ill-advised by misinformation via social media, governors, and third-party sources. While many people feel frustrated that this crisis has lasted for over a year, resuming a pre-pandemic lifestyle will only prolong the pandemic, and cost the lives of thousands of Americans. By following official health sources such as the CDC and WHO, practicing safe public health measures before vaccination and after can help your neighbor, a friend, and the people of America stay safe against COVID-19.

Works Cited

Agnew, Duncan, et al. “‘It's Putting Us in the Firing Line’: Some Small-Business Owners Worry about Gov. Greg Abbott Lifting Coronavirus Restrictions.” The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune, 3 Mar. 2021,

“CDC COVID Data Tracker.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

“COVID Data Tracker Weekly Review.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

“COVID-19 Pandemic .” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Mar. 2021,

“FDA Issues Emergency Use Authorization for Third COVID-19 Vaccine.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, 27 Feb. 2021,

Garcia-Navarro, Lulu. “Texas Business Owners Grapple With Loosening Coronavirus Restrictions.” NPR, National Public Radio, 7 Mar. 2021,

Gupta, Dr. Sanjay. “Autopsy of a Pandemic: 6 Doctors at the Center of the US COVID-19 Response.” CNN, Cable News Network, 26 Mar. 2021,

Lee, Jasmine C., et al. “See Coronavirus Restrictions and Mask Mandates for All 50 States.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Apr. 2020,

Miller, Zeke. “Biden, CDC Director Warn of Virus Rebound If Nation Lets Up.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 29 Mar. 2021,

Stein, Rob. “Fauci Reveals He Has Received Death Threats And His Daughters Have Been Harassed.” NPR, National Public Radio, 5 Aug. 2020,

The White House, Briefing Room. “Fact Sheet: President Biden to Announce All Americans to be Eligible for Vaccinations by May 1, Puts the Nation on a Path to Get Closer to Normal by July 4th.” The White House, Briefing Room, 22, May. 2021,


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