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THE GOVERNORS of California and New York, both Democrats, have called for more restrictive social distancing to fight the coronavirus pandemic. They emphasize the need for people to act voluntarily in the interest of the common good. That is the right approach. Government should not strangle the society it is trying to save.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted that “there are places, regions, states, cities in this country that are being stressed much, much more than the country as a whole,” and said he “strongly supports” the moves. From a public health standpoint, the disruption caused by social distancing is worth it; the sacrifices are temporary and far less painful than thousands of deaths, overrun hospitals and a runaway virus.

But this is every bit as much about human behavior as about public health. It is absolutely essential in the months ahead that political leaders retain people’s trust—not an easy task even in normal times. If the restrictions are draconian, they could boomerang. People may panic or be tempted to disobey. That would in turn threaten further spread of the virus. Political leaders must allow a society to breathe, not only fresh air in parks and playgrounds, but also to go about life as normally as possible, to have access to groceries, banks, pharmacies and other essential services. It is important that leaders retain credibility so that the next time they ask for emergency action, they are heeded.

The word “lockdown” suggests jail. The concept is hardly what the United States needs at this juncture. We need careful, clear public health decisions to guide us back to normal as soon as possible.

Print Headline: OTHERS SAY Still need room to breathe

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