Credit: Michael Swan/Flickr

My parents are 87 and 88 years old. They haven’t seen their grandchildren since March. This is only partly through choice, as we’re not allowed to visit their assisted living community and they face a rigorous and lengthy quarantine if they leave the premises. In any case, the soccer and baseball games they often attend were cancelled in the spring and there’s no sign of them resuming any time soon. The precautions are worth it though. Many of the retirement and nursing homes around where I live in Pennsylvania have been ravaged by COVID-19, but my parents’ community has so far managed to keep the virus out.

Still, this isn’t a great situation for us, as basic actuarial tables say my son and parents only have a limited amount of time left with each other. This isn’t time that we can get back. And yet, how would we feel if our desire to be together resulted in an outbreak in their community that resulted in hospitalizations and deaths? It’s not really a difficult choice for us stay apart. It’s clearly the responsible thing to do, and we all understand this.

I know that part of our calculation is related to our perception of risk. The Mid-Atlantic has been the hardest hit region of the country. Still, the principles involved hold just as true in areas where the immediate risk is lower. With no testing available and asymptomatic carriers, I have no idea if I’m infectious and so I can’t in good conscience walk into a retirement home. If school were in session, I’d never know if my son was carrying the virus home and putting his asthmatic mother at mortal risk. I don’t enjoy this situation, but I know I have to somehow endure and manage it.

That’s what I think about when I read stuff like this:

Rashell Collins Bridle, a 42-year-old mother of five who also lives in Nederland, [Texas] and makes her living selling items on eBay, said a minister she knew had died after contracting the virus. Even so, she said she and her friends were more focused on freedom than on health.

“I guess other people expect us to set our futures on fire to keep their fear warm,” she said. “I think that’s incredibly selfish — if you’re that fearful, then just stay home.”

…On the first weekend that Texas lifted the stay-at-home orders, Ms. Bridle took her family to a state park on the Gulf of Mexico. She said American flags were flying from many cars and trucks on the road “as if it were the Fourth of July.”

She said that if schools open with hefty restrictions on recess or how far desks must be spaced together, she will instead place her daughter in a Christian home school co-op. And if there is another stay-at-home order this year?

“We probably won’t stand for that again,” she said. “I myself won’t comply. I will never comply with anything else like this ever.”

I’ll admit that I’m a bit fearful, and more so than I’d likely be if I lived in Nederland, Texas. But my decision to abide by stay-at-home orders and the precautionary guidance of health professionals is driven much more by my sense of civic responsibility than any worry for myself.

What especially bothers me about Ms. Bridle’s behavior is that people who act like her make it less likely that I’ll be able to safely resume normal activities in the near future. She says that she’s defending freedom, but I don’t feel very free. My parents don’t feel free. My wife and my son don’t feel free. Pre-vaccine, the only thing that will change that is if the infection rate drops to a level where a newly infected person spreads the disease to an average of less than one other person. Everyone who fails to stay-at-home or take the recommended precautions delays the date by which we’ll reach that point. And that means one less day my son and parents will get to be together.

I’m only using my personal example here to make this more tangible for folks who might not immediately get it, but my concern is not at all just for how this affects my family. You can multiply my situation a couple hundred million times and get a better picture of why Ms. Bridle’s position is unsupportable.

It’s ironic that she says her response to schools taking precautions will be to keep her kids at home. I guess, whatever it takes to get her to do the right thing, right?

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at