July

The idyllic Outer Banks in North Carolina is pictured here. The Pennsylvania Department of Health recommends that Pennsylvanians self-quarantine for 14 days after visiting North Carolina and certain other states.

THE ISSUE

As of Tuesday afternoon, Lancaster County had 4,876 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and 367 total deaths, according to county Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni. The commonwealth had 96,671 total cases of COVID-19 and 6,931 deaths. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the U.S. has surpassed the 136,000 death threshold.

Gov. Tom Wolf has been castigated as a “dictator” by some critics of the strict measures he imposed to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in Pennsylvania.

But for a purported dictator, he’s being pretty lax about the 14-day quarantine his health officials recommend for Pennsylvania residents who visit certain other states.

Over the weekend, state health officials said Pennsylvanians who travel to Delaware, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma are advised to “stay home for 14 days upon return to Pennsylvania” — that is, to self-quarantine. (Delaware was removed from the list Wednesday, just days after it was added.)

Those states were added to 15 others announced earlier: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

We sincerely hope Lancaster County residents aren’t visiting Florida, which is now the epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 crisis.

As the Orlando Sentinel reported, “Florida shattered the national record Sunday for the largest single-day increase in cases in any state since the beginning of the pandemic, adding over 15,000 cases as its daily average death toll continued to also rise.”

Orlando, of course, is the home of Disney World, which for some inexplicable reason, partially reopened its doors Saturday. You couldn’t buy enough hand sanitizer to get us to ride the Space Mountain roller coaster right now.

That said, we feel for families who had planned to take their children there this summer. It’s a destination that some wait years to visit, saving money and making meticulous plans.

We also feel for those who hoped to vacation at the beautiful Outer Banks in North Carolina or Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head in South Carolina. 

For some families, we’re sure, the cost of vacation — plus the cost of taking unpaid time off to quarantine — would be too high.

That reality is going to work against the effectiveness of the Wolf administration’s recommendation, which relies on the honor system.

As Maggi Mumma, deputy press secretary for the state Department of Health, told us in an emailed statement this week, “At this time, quarantine related to travel is a recommendation, not a requirement. Quarantine is recommended because it is one of the most effective methods in preventing the spread of COVID-19.”

She noted that “voluntary compliance is the key to successful implementation. Using techniques such as wearing face masks, social distancing, and quarantining after travel to the listed states limits the spread of COVID-19 for the benefit of family, friends, and fellow Pennsylvanians. Therefore, it is in everyone’s best interest that all Pennsylvanians comply with this recommendation.”

We agree with all of that, but we’re a bit skeptical that people will heed the recommendation, and not just because of its potential impracticalities.

People are understandably weary of COVID-19 — though that weariness doesn’t mean the danger is anywhere near over.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said this during an online Journal of the American Medical Association discussion Tuesday: “I do think the fall and the winter of 2020 and 2021 are going to be probably one of the most difficult times that we’ve experienced in American public health because of ... the co-occurrence of COVID and influenza.”

That’s distressing, to put it mildly, because we’ve already been through pretty difficult times.

But Redfield also said this, according to the website Axios: “If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I think in four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control.”

An editorial co-authored by Redfield, and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday, stated: “Like herd immunity with vaccines, the more individuals wear cloth face coverings in public places where they may be close together, the more the entire community is protected.”

And community-level protection “can reduce the number of new infections and facilitate cautious easing of more societally disruptive community interventions such as stay-at-home orders and business closings.”

Until there’s a reliable and accessible vaccine — and, encouragingly, it was reported Tuesday that one vaccine being tested had triggered an immune response in those who received it — preventive measures are our best hope.

Face coverings now are required when we leave our homes in Pennsylvania, and yet, maddeningly, some people still balk at wearing them.

One writer of a letter to the editor noted the “lack of empathy” of people who “pompously stride into a convenience store ... maskless, blatantly ignoring the obvious posted signs stating that facial coverings are required for entry.”

Another wrote of being in “a locally owned market where about half of the customers were not wearing masks. The manager just shrugged and said he assumed they were medically compromised, adding he also felt mask-wearing was a personal choice.”

Given the resistance to masks, which are required, why would Pennsylvanians voluntarily self-isolate for 14 days after a vacation?

This, we hope, is why: Because we care about the well-being of others — and are keenly aware of the dangers of COVID-19. Because we want our kids to be able to return to the classroom next month. Because we don’t want bars and restaurants to be shut down again, and we don’t want business owners and their employees to lose their livelihoods. Because we want family members to be able to visit their loved ones in nursing homes. Because we want sooner rather than later to be able to work, play, gather, celebrate and pray together in safety — in other words, to exercise the freedoms that those who scorn health recommendations claim to be exercising.

Because, most of all, the novel coronavirus would be a horrible souvenir to bring back from vacation, and we dread the possibility of passing it on to anyone else.

Self-quarantining for 14 days would be a huge sacrifice, we know. If you can’t afford to take that much time off, you probably shouldn’t vacation in any of the states on the commonwealth’s list. Which may seem unfair, but that’s the reality. Because it may not just be you who will have to pay for the risks you take.