In the age of COVID-19 “Live Free or Die” takes on a whole new meaning, because a virus is not a terrorist.

Doubling down on normal life – living free – was a proper response after 9/11 to show terrorists that Americans weren’t cowed by their attack. Doubling down on normal life in response to a contagious disease is the exact opposite: counter-productive and dangerous. It will literally kill people.

We’ve all seen or heard of people gathering in bars or restaurants or the gym or even Disney World to “defy” the coronavirus, to celebrate their freedom. That is like saying you will “defy” wildfires and celebrate your freedom by scattering gasoline around and lighting matches. 

People can carry and spread the novel coronavirus before they show symptoms, so some “defiant” folks at a gathering are pulling a Typhoid Mary routine, passing along the virus to other people. Each of those people may pass it to several others, each of whom may pass it on to several others – and that, my friends, is how exponential growth works.

When it comes to a sometimes deadly disease, we do not want exponential growth to work.

You know how you couldn’t find toilet paper this weekend because of exponential growth in people buying it? Imagine that instead of toilet paper it was respirators for people struggling to breath as COVID-19 tries to destroy their lungs.

Those people would die. That’s what an exponential growth in patients could do.

So this is a case where living free means not doing what we want to do, the exact opposite of its usual meaning.

We don’t want to stay home, to avoid doing fun things and useful things and seemingly necessary things. But because we possess freedom, because we are Americans, because we embrace New Hampshire’s motto, we have the freedom to act responsibly for the good of all.

Not everybody has this freedom, unfortunately. Hourly workers with no paid sick time aren’t free to avoid contact with others, for example.  But to the extent that we do have this freedom then we must exercise it.

Stay home and stay isolated as much as you can, even more than you think you should. Err on the side of caution, because we don’t want the “or die” part of the state motto to become the norm.

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