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The Crisis Games

People made excruciating decisions about major life events, decisions that will haunt them the rest of their lives, because they were following the rules. To see the rules fall away overnight is a hard pill to swallow. To see many in media shift the rhetoric so quickly is dizzying.

If you’re familiar with The Hunger Games series you know what the big twist in the second book, Catching Fire, is. If you’re unaware and plan to read these books (which you absolutely should do), caution: there are spoilers ahead. 

After surviving the Capitol’s cruel arena in which young people fight to the death, the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, returns to her district along with Peeta Mellark, her co-victor in the Hunger Games and one-third of the love triangle that unfolds throughout the series. Having survived a round in the Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta enjoy but a short time basking in the glow of their victory before they learn they’re headed back to the arena for a second contest in which victors will fight other victors to the death. 

I’ve thought of Katniss often lately for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the Dystopian tint of life in general since mid-March. We were all suddenly yanked from our day-to-day lives and told our focus must be on COVID-19. We didn’t know much about this virus in mid-March. Some of the measures we took were understandable. We cancelled school and church. There were no birthday parties, no trips to Grandma’s house, no graduations, no large weddings, and no funerals for many weeks. We were all in it together, so we were told, and together, with drastic measures, we could slow the spread of this virus and ease the burden on our hospitals. Yes, there would be an economic price, but the alternative would be a significant loss of life.

Gradually some states began to test the waters of reopening. We were told we’d manage this in phases. My state of Louisiana is currently still in Phase 1 of reopening. I attended my niece’s softball game recently, and a playground nearby was still roped off with police tape as it will be, I presume, until we reach Phase 2. On the same night hundreds of people gathered in New Orleans, by far the area hardest hit by COVID-19 in Louisiana, for a protest. In the last week, as many states are officially still in the early stages of reopening, large gatherings suddenly became not only acceptable but encouraged and praised, and many Americans who have made tremendous sacrifices the last few months are understandably perplexed by the sudden rule change.

Very recently the running narrative was that it was selfish to leave your home unless it was absolutely necessary. I could link you to a hundred articles and government press releases stating as much, but you saw them all. “Safer at Home!” was the perpetual rallying cry to the point I was so tired of hearing it and seeing it I was tempted to go kiss random strangers (I did not do this).

This NPR piece discusses a letter signed by multiple public health and disease experts who argue that, “. . . the risks of congregating during a global pandemic shouldn’t keep people from protesting racism.” In an open letter, these experts explain that, “White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19.” 

When I read the above nonsense I thought of the Gamemakers, those responsible for dropping Katniss Everdeen in the arena and throwing all manner of absurd and potentially lethal obstacles in her way. The rules constantly change. In fact, the rule is that once you achieve the status of victor you are a victor for life and won’t face the arena again, except guess what? The rule-makers change the rules. Katniss survives one arena only to find herself in another because the rules have changed. One crisis bleeds into another, and the rules that applied last time are now null and void. Sound familiar? 

As this excellent piece explains, protests and looting are an insult to our healthcare workers. Doctors and nurses and others in the medical field have sacrificed their time, their health, and in some cases their lives to treat COVID-19 patients, and yet with the flip of a switch we have moved right along to the next crisis as if the virus has magically disappeared. 

It is not only healthcare workers who’re likely curious or flat out angry about the sudden fervor for large gatherings. Over the last few months thousands of people have been separated from their loved ones as they languished in the hospital because that was what was best for all of us, so we were told. People died alone in hospital beds because their children and grandchildren were told they could not sit bedside in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, yet suddenly it is fine and even necessary for thousands to gather in our streets?

Weddings have been cancelled. People have buried their loved ones alone because we could not hold funerals. Church doors were shuttered week after week. People were told the crisis was so serious they could not work for weeks despite the glacial speed at which government assistance arrived. Many businesses have closed permanently and are unlikely to ever reopen.

Fox News meteorologist Janice Dean lost her in-laws to COVID-19. She wrote this expressing her frustration over the way the state of New York and especially Governor Cuomo have handled COVID-19. More recently she shared this on Twitter:

Her story no doubt mirrors the story of thousands of people who not only lost a loved one, whether to COVID-19 or another cause, but faced that already grueling event within the constraints of COVID-19 that we were told were so crucial.

Except, oops!, maybe the restrictions weren’t so crucial if they can be eradicated overnight to allow for nationwide protests. People made excruciating decisions about major life events, decisions that will haunt them the rest of their lives, because they were following the rules. To see the rules fall away overnight is a hard pill to swallow. To see many in media shift the rhetoric so quickly is dizzying.

Weeks ago some in media suggested those protesting the lockdowns should sign a waiver stating they have no right to medical care should they fall ill after violating stay-at-home orders to protest:

Apparently it is no longer selfish to protest despite the continued possibility that gathering in large groups spreads the virus to people who will then potentially take it home to medically vulnerable individuals. People can now decide what risk they are willing to take, including the risk of spreading the virus to others.

It is not the place of the media or the government to decide whose situation is truly dire and give them a pass to protest while bans on large gatherings remain in place in many states. Weeks ago people were protesting because they wanted and needed to work; many of them would describe their situation as dire. Either protesting is fine and to be encouraged, or it is not.

Neither COVID-19 nor racism are fictitious issues. They are both legitimate concerns, but the extent to which the media drives a narrative has been laid bare in stunning fashion. It’s naive to assume Gamemakers who create a simulated arena in which they attempt to pull people’s strings are relegated to the pages of Dystopian fiction.

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