I write this as one of many thousands of US residents driven from their homes by full-on, hard authoritarian government response to the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, the 30th of March, Maryland Governor Hogan imposed one of the most severe stay at home orders in the entire US, brazenly threatening residents with prison if they left home for any but a few reasons. With hours until it went into effect, I hurredly packed up the things I care about the most and escaped from MD with hours to spare.
On the same day MD Gov Hogan imposed his order and began blustering threats of jail,Virginia governor Northam imposed a similar order, though he was less threatening and brazen in his language. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser then followed suit with a stay at home order of their own.
All of this occurred just days after the Washington Post ran a story about the growing movement of refugees inside the United States from places with hard shelter in places orders to states such as Florida. Both hotspots of virus and hotspots of strong stay-at-home (de facto house arrest) orders are driving the flow of refugees, myself among them.Trump’s talk of a national quarantine of the entire NY area spurred further refugee travel. Things have deterioriated a long way since the barren toilet paper shelves in stores I saw on the way home from the March 11 Bike Party
As for me, I am in a safe, secure location, well away from other people beyond a very few trusted friends, out of reach of Governor Hogan’s police and violence. A warrant should be legally impossible, as I was never in MD while this order was legally effective and will not return until it is repealed, overturned by court action, or overthrown by an uprising in the Baltimore 2015 manner. Just getting out was not easy. First up was desperate emergency packing, knowing anything left behind could not be reacquired elsewhere and that I could never return to MD for it until this is over. After that, I had to ensure that I was all the way out of MD before this could go into effect, avoiding the county seat in Rockville and known police-heavy areas on the way out.
I then had to worry about any attempts by first Virginia and then by North Carolina to pull over vehicles bearing license places from areas with new stay-at-home orders or attempting to enforce their own stay-at-home orders on nonresidents passing through. Thankfully most cops were busy elesewhere, so I got out without ever even seeing one in these states. At this writing though, targetting still seems to be limited to NY/NJ/Connecticut and Louisina, but for the whole trip I had to figure that opening of business, noon, and close of business of each day that could change. Finally I had to add almost 200 miles to the trip and 50 miles on back roads to avoid checkpoints at or near the last state line. Only once that border was 100 miles away could I truly relax.
For the entire trip I had to behave as though I was infected with one dangerous illness and all other persons infected with another, different one: sterilize hands and mask up before entering any building for gas, toilets, etc and sterilize hands again on exit or after touching any object that I had not myself provided.
Where I am now MD cannot reach me at all, and the virus only with difficuly. If worst comes to worst and the virus came with me, it will have great difficulty getting back out as well. I may not be in Governor Hogan’s approved living arrangement but rather in another one that is at least as effective in controlling this virus. I do NOT believe I can stay sane in any form of confinement and did what I had to do to defend myself from “Hogan’s Zeroes,” who will seek to enforce the lockdown with threats of jail or prison.
It appears Governors Hogan and Northam plus Mayor Bowser conspired together on this. In MD, Hogan blamed young people packing beaches for an outbreak AT THE SAME TIME in a nursing home. He chose group punishment of the entire state as his response, While the nursing home outbreak is an absolute catastrophe, it was reported while the young people were still on the beaches, and interaction between these two groups is probably little or none. All nursing homes in MD have now been barring visitors for longer than the 14 day maximum common incubation period of COVID-19, so that outbreak probably rode in with a doctor or nurse who did not have access to sufficient personal protective equipment elsewhere.
Possible enforcement modes for stay at home orders based on behavior in other nations include cell phone tracking and facial recognition surveillance as well as police patrols of disfavored neighborhoods and recruitment of neighborhood snitches. Anyone remaining in the area of one of these orders and going out for an “unapproved” reason or farther from their home than the nearest grocery store should probably leave their phone at home and if they have a drivers license or state ID should consider wearing a real or fake respirator mask plus sunglasses to block facial recognition cameras.
As an alternative to wholesale lockdowns I propose this alternative solution that lets people make their own choices, modelled on “sero-sorting” as a response to HIV. Already some grocery stores are offering special “senior and immunicompromised” shopping hours early AM when stores have just opened after cleaning. The grocery store and the drugstore are essentially the only evironments where people attempting to defend themselves from the virus by self-isolation are forced to break quarantine. Removing this risk would allow unilateral self-defense without regard for what anyone else does.
Next up, prioritize those who self-isolate for medical service (instead of prioritizing the rich like we do today). Finally, it may pay to add one more risk category at stores: those known to be infected and requiring food plus those attending parties or gatherings would be asked to shop ONLY in the last two hours the stores are open, and staffing would be limited to those workers who themselves fall into this same category. In other words, staffers who went to Spring Break and Mardi Gras serve customers who also did.
Those who choose to take risks and who if they get sick at all will all get sick at once are free to do so, but with the understanding that they will NOT be able to take resources away from those who did not freely choose to take these risks. Thus those who self-isolate are not exposed to those who don’t, and their supply of ventilators and hospital beds etc is as independent as possible of the “leftovers” that are available for any flood of cases among those who do not self-isolate.
If this breaks down because of cases spreading between the two groups anyway, we might be dealing with a disease so contagious nothing is going to slow it down anyway and all these restrictions are futile. What happens in Wuhan will tell. If removing restrictions does not cause a new outbreak, than “silent spread” by asymptomatic carriers saturated the population and China’s lockdown had nothing to do with stopping the initial outbreak. If the disease comes roaring back, on then can we assume the restrictions stopped it.
If the coronavirus is defeated or after it burns out, new government powers are likely to remain unless removed by force. Facial and phone location surveillance, curfews, etc all will have constituancies (especially among the rich) seeking to keep them. Trump now has requested the power of arbitrary detention without charge to enforce coronavirus quarantines, and the Dept of Injustice has a similar proposal covering both pandemics and “civil disobedience” to allow courts to order detention without trial or legal recourse.
To all those who deem sweeping now government powers an acceptable price for defeating the coronavirus, ask yourself this question: If a colonizing power from outside sought to impose these same restrictions so they could benefit economically, would not that be met with war? How many people would be prepared to die fighting that war so as not to live under a fascist regime? How many people would never surrender to authoritarianism no matter how many bombs the attackers dropped?
FInally: to Governor Hogan in MD, Mayor Bowser in DC, and all the rest of the governors threatening people with cages for not submitting to house arrest I say this: take your stay at home orders and use them for toilet paper! You certainly won’t find anything else suitable for that job now anyway. I do not know when if ever I will see my home again, but you will never be able to impose your year in prison for leaving my home on me, because I was never in Maryland while this sorry excuse for a law was in effect.