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Stay-at-home order presents quandary

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I am struggling mightily with Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order.

In my job as a reporter for the Johnstonian News, I have talked with many business owners about the impact the order is having on them and their employees. None of the news is good, even among businesses the governor has allowed to remain open.

For example, the owners of two downtown Smithfield eateries, The Diner and Gotham’s Deli, tell me they are thankful for loyal followings that have softened the blow of the governor’s ban on sit-down dining. But they also tell me their sales are still off by 40 and 60 percent, respectively.

The news is even worse for businesses the governor deemed nonessential. The folks at GALOT Motorsports Park, the drag strip near Benson, say they have laid off one full-timer and all 50 of their part-time employees. Likewise, the owners of Smithfield’s two movie theaters say they have laid off all of their part-timers, and their prospects for a quick recovery are dim because the movie studios have delayed many releases into the fall and even into next year.

Will the Good Lord forgive me then for sometimes thinking that hundreds of jobs are more important than the apparently low risk to Johnston County lives because of the coronavirus? I hope he, or she, does because I’m pretty sure many of my Facebook friends won’t. They’re angry with the states that are easing the restrictions they put in place because of the coronavirus. And they are quick to note that COVID-19 cases are rising in some of those states even as they prepare to lift their lockdowns.

I’m just hoping we’ve been friends long enough that they’ll agree to disagree.

Beyond the devastating impact the lockdown has had on North Carolina’s economy, I guess I have philosophical qualms with the lockdown. Which is to say that I as grow increasingly libertarian, I think folks ought to be able to have a meal in a restaurant if they want. I think too that they ought to be able to get a haircut or a tattoo or an ear-piercing if they see fit.

I’m not dismissing the risk those activities pose during a pandemic. It’s just that I think fully informed adults, aware of the risk, ought to be able to make that call, not the government. Ditto for the owners of restaurants, barbershops, hair salons, tattoo parlors and so on. If they appreciate the risk and want to open anyway, I think they should be able to.

Others have a different point of view, and it’s a sound one. Because it’s possible to have the coronavirus and not know it, I could easily infect a healthy person sitting across from me at the restaurant. I understand and appreciate that. My counterargument is that the healthy person across the table is a fully informed adult too and could choose to stay home if he or she thought the risk of infection outweighed the reward of a quesadilla from Heidi’s Two-Wheel Cafe or the chori pollo from San Marcos or the pancake breakfast at Parkside Cafe.

I’m not ready to march on downtown Raleigh in protest, but I sincerely believe that our political leaders and bureaucrats in Raleigh and Washington are not the only adults in the room. And I would not want to live in a state or country where citizens defer to their leaders without question.

But my libertarian thinking also dictates that I consider the rights of others. Again, I’m not talking about the guy across from me at the restaurant; it’s his choice to be there. And it’s certainly the choice of the restaurant owner to reopen or to reopen with seating limitations. The same is true of any retailer and any retail customer.

I’m thinking instead about the county’s health care providers. Doctors and nurses take seriously their obligation to care for the sick, even folks who become sick through needlessly risky behavior. Which is to say they would no more say no to caring for a sick restaurant patron than a resident of a nursing home. So is it my right then to jeopardize the health of a nurse or doctor just because I got stir crazy? Surely the answer to that question is no.

No wonder then that I’m struggling with the governor’s stay-at-home order. And if it’s hard for me, just imagine how difficult it must be for him.

Scott Bolejack is the editor of the Johnstonian News. Reach him at