There are at least two camps in Oklahoma: those who believe the government is not doing enough to prevent the spread of coronavirus and those who believe the government is overreacting to the pandemic. Regardless of which camp you are in, the truth is we can see clearly the nations and states that have adopted stricter sets of prevention measures have fared better than those with more relaxed measures. I generally look for the middle-ground on issues, but the middle ground for this pandemic looks to be only marginally better than doing nothing at all.
Blaise Pascal was a French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist who lived in the 1600s and is famous, in part, due to an argument called “Pascal’s wager.” Pascal argues a rational person should not only live as though God exists, but also seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, a person will experience only a few losses like worldly pleasures and luxury, etc. If God does exist, however, that person stands to receive infinite gains (Heaven) and avoids infinite losses (an eternity in Hell). Basically, Pascal argues, bet on God’s existence and one stands to gain much more than that person will lose.
I bring this up not to debate the religious and theological nature of this wager or to make light of it (and, yes, I believe God exists). Pascal’s wager is a beneficial illustration for us to begin to navigate our stances in regard to the coronavirus pandemic. We have it much easier than Pascal, though, because we know the coronavirus pandemic actually exists. If we wager the coronavirus pandemic is a real threat and do things to decrease exposure, we will be much better off in the end. If we do not believe this pandemic is a real threat and live our lives as normal, we are flirting with disaster.
The conundrum facing the Governor and other leaders is how do we contain the virus without submarining the economy even more? We know other countries like South Korea have virtually halted the spread of coronavirus and with comparatively less impact to their economy by banning travel, following strict social distancing guidelines, swift testing, quarantining those tested, following up on positive tests and tracing those the infected have exposed, and then quarantining those potentially infected people. We have been at a disadvantage because tests have been scarce, but fortunately, tests are becoming more available in our state with both OU and OSU now testing in their labs.
It is time to screen widely. I was relieved when Oklahoma Secretary of Health Jerome Loughridge mentioned a partnership with Google yesterday in the Governor’s press briefing where Oklahomans can self-report their symptoms via a link on their phones. This would give the state the ability to see in real-time who are presenting symptoms, locate the possible infected people, instruct them to stay home, and get a test to them quickly.
This will be incredibly helpful to all of us, BUT ONLY AS LONG AS OKLAHOMANS FOLLOW QUARANTINE AND SOCIAL DISTANCING GUIDELINES. We are in this boat together and we need to protect each other. Be a good neighbor, take Pascal’s wager and bet on the pandemic being real and severe. Then, follow the CDC guidelines by self-quarantining when you feel bad, social distancing when you feel fine, washing your hands often, and observing coughing and sneezing etiquette. How we react to this pandemic on a personal level either will pay large dividends to the state and its citizens or incur large losses.
I fully expect local and state leaders will soon be calling for more extensive and more limiting actions. Until then, be rational, wise and responsible. Be willing to do everything you can to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Marcus McEntire represents Oklahoma House District 50.