Reason Roundup

COVID-19: A National Problem With Local Solutions

Also: Chelsea Manning finally freed, coronavirus appropriations, and more...


Social solidarity saves the day? The government has found ways to fail at every step of the response to the new coronavirus outbreak, but the American people are exhibiting commendable levels of calm, careful, and community-oriented action.

Businesses, nonprofit groups, churches, community leaders, and individuals have been voluntarily canceling plans, creating workplace workarounds, soliciting ways to help their neighbors, and practicing "social distancing" in the face of vast uncertainty about the true threat level faced or whether widespread testing for the virus (let alone a vaccine) will be ready anytime soon.

The now-constant churn of coronavirus updates—another new city with cases, another school system sending kids home, another state seeking federal help by declaring an emergency—can make even those who aren't prone to panic start stocking up on canned goods and wine. Even Disney parks are shutting their gates through the end of the month.

But a lot of what we're seeing and hearing about constitutes acts of social solidarity, as Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times suggested yesterday.

The events put on hold, personal and business travel cancellations, employees and students sent to work and learn from home, museum and theater closings, action taken by sports leagues, and countless self quarantines… The people passing along practical tips to help neighbors who might be hit especially hard when public life slows down… Scientists from all spheres stepping in to help develop tests (and groups like the Gates Foundation to help make them more widely available)…. Even everyone stocking up on groceries and household items in order to stay home if they start coughing…

Individuals, civic groups, businesses, and loose social networks are working in the spirit of charity, personal responsibility, and helping one another.

People are attempting to mitigate their own risk, sure, but it also goes beyond that. Even in populations not likely to be seriously affected by the illness, and even with warnings that most people will be exposed eventually and a majority infected, we're seeing people pretty cheerfully do what all the health experts have been saying: to slow, if we cannot stop, the spread of the contagion in order not to overwhelm health care and emergency services.

We're also witnessing state and city governments grapple with this in ways that rely on relaxing their regular rules and letting everyone pitch in.

Unfortunately, some officials are taking advantage of the crisis to push essentially unrelated policies they've long desired. Others are operating under the idea that government can do whatever it wants in unusual times. In California, for instance, Gov. Gavin Newsom "released a sweeping executive order on Thursday that allows the state to commandeer hotels and medical facilities to treat coronavirus patients and permits government officials to hold teleconferences in private without violating open meeting laws," reports the Los Angeles Times.

And while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been correcting course on COVID-19 testing, we're still woefully behind.

Nothing will get back the time we've lost. But even if we can't count on officials to get things right, civil society has been lessening the impact of those follies.

This phenomenon is backed up by other research on times of disaster. A recent piece in The New York Times shows that "the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 surprised everyone by showing that natural disasters can bring out more kindness than selfishness"—and that this turned to be a typical social response.

"It turns out that unselfish behavior during a disaster is the rule rather than the exception," Boing Boing points out.


Chelsea Manning finally freed.


Congressional Democrats have released a coronavirus appropriations bill that contains some sensible measures—and a whole lot of extras. As Reason's Robby Soave noted yesterday, the measure would "establish free coronavirus testing; mandate private businesses provide additional paid sick leave; expand unemployment insurance eligibility; strengthen food security initiatives for senior citizens, children, pregnant women, and food banks; increase funding for Medicaid; and bolster unemployment benefits, among other provisions," to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. It would also make the mandated sick leave program permanent.

Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich.) weighs in:


U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. While viruses and elections have dominated the news, battles between U.S. and Iranian-backed forces in Iraq have been quietly escalating. The Pentagon says Kataib Hezbollah-linked facilities "across Iraq" were hit by U.S. airstrikes this morning, in retaliation for the Iran-linked group's killing of two U.S. and one British military member. "The aerial bombardment took place around 1:30 a.m., according to the Iraqi military. It was unclear whether any militia members were killed," reports The Washington Post.


  • In New York City, a new pop-up exhibit tells sex workers stories through a range of different media. More information here.

  • Sex work in a time of pandemic: