The valiant struggle of today’s healthcare workers against the coronavirus hearkens back to one of the toughest enemies George Washington faced while fighting for American independence: Variola, the smallpox virus. Smallpox was decimating the ranks of the Continentals in 1776, threatening our fight for freedom. Despite misgivings of the Continental Congress, Washington ordered a mass inoculation of the troops and it helped his army to win the Revolutionary War.
Our government of the people is strongest when we all pull together and do our part to defeat a threat, whether a tyrant on the battlefield, a downturn in the economy, or a vicious virus, like smallpox, polio, or, indeed, coronavirus. In 1905, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the health and protection of society from smallpox took precedence over the objections of an individual man to a compulsory smallpox vaccination law. Like Washington, the High Court understood that defeating a serious disease takes a united effort and that holdouts can threaten the entire fight.
Now, 245 years from our founding, our principles stand strong and our science stands even stronger. A majority of Idahoans have acted with compassion and common sense, protecting our neighbors and friends — and our fragile health care system — from the rampant spread of this virus. But a vocal minority, fueled by disinformation and extremist politics, is threatening that balance and undermining Idahoans’ innate understanding of the role individual responsibility and civic duty play in citizenship.
Right now, across our state, we are facing the real potential of overwhelmed hospitals. Those of us who take on the very reasonable and temporary sacrifice to wear a mask have helped keep community spread down. Idahoans who respect our neighbors, our young children, our health care professionals and the medically vulnerable enough to get vaccinated have prevented our hospitals from being overwhelmed throughout this pandemic, so that all Idahoans will be able to get care if they have an auto accident, a heart attack or a stroke. Thank you. You are the silent and largely unseen heroes!
When we take public health guidance to heart, we are living our best lives, refusing to live in fear. As the saying goes, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Idahoans are tough, and we have to keep going, protecting our personal freedoms by fighting our common enemy: the novel coronavirus. We must continue protecting our families, our neighbors, our co-workers and our businesses by wearing masks and getting vaccinated. True freedom is never free. Personal freedom is worth nothing if we are all alone. Idahoans win when we work as communities to take care of our friends and neighbors.
A recent USA TODAY poll reveals that a strong majority of Americans agree — 72% support mask mandates and 61% endorse vaccination requirements. Idahoans are continuing to get free, safe, approved vaccines in all of our communities. Bless those who have joined with and supported our dedicated health workers in the fight against the coronavirus by getting vaccinated and by supporting masking and other efforts to stop the spread of the virus in our schools and communities.
As we enter another Fall of COVID across Idaho, let’s conquer our fears together, get vaccinated, and work together to protect our many freedoms.
Jim Jones, a Vietnam Veteran, served both as Idaho Attorney General and Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court. Dr. David Pate is former president and CEO of the St. Luke’s Health System. And Mike Satz is director of The Idaho 97 Project, which was founded on the idea that the vast majority of Idahoans understand responsible citizenship, stand with health care workers, and want to see a return to productive civic engagement. This op-ed is part of a series on Idaho perspectives on COVID from The Idaho 97 Project.