EDITORIAL: Opening up: We should consider others when asserting freedoms

Beachgoers recline in the shade of umbrellas and canopies Monday along a beach on South Padre Island. Over the weekend beaches on the island were filled with people following the relaxation of Gov. Greg Abbott's shelter-in-place order and business restrictions on May 1. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

People aren’t used to being told what they can and can’t do, and we don’t like it. But, as we were told when we were children, it’s for our own good.

Growing numbers of people are starting to chafe at stay-home orders, business closures and other restrictions on public interaction. Increasingly, people have been taking to the streets to protest such orders and to demand the freedom to, well, take to the streets.

They want to feel free again. After Gov. Greg Abbott reopened state parks and beaches, thousands swarmed to them; South Padre Island last weekend was as crowded as during Spring Break, with the traditional traffic jam on the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge. The crowds might have surprised many who expected that so many would have the same yearning to get back out in the world.

Even as Texas and some other states have started easing many restrictions, the process can’t come fast enough for some people, and they demand full, immediate return to the way things used to be.

Of course, things will never be like before. Some people didn’t survive the COVID-19 pandemic, some businesses didn’t either. Some aren’t ready to reopen, despite receiving permission to start receiving limited numbers of customers. Perhaps owners and managers disagree with Abbott’s timeline for reviving Texas business, thinking it’s still too soon. Some might not want to deal with the first phase that allows just 25% of the buildings’ capacity to enter at one time, and have to turn people away.

Regardless, those who want full access to public places are going to find that many of them still are off limits, now by choice rather than by government order.

And just like the protesters want to decide for themselves whether to go out in public, business owners deserve the same freedom to wait a bit longer in order to better ensure the safety of their workers and their clients.

That has been the motivating factor behind many of the precautions that have been implemented: not only to protect us, but to protect others from us.

The protestors are right in saying they have a right to assume whatever risks that might come with going out in public during a viral pandemic. Of course they do.

However, that assertion raises a second question: Do those same people have a right to impose those risks upon other people, without their consent and even perhaps against their will?

We can’t say that they can simply stay home to avoid the risks. Many still have to go to work. They still have to buy food for their families.

Given the two-week incubation period of the coronavirus, when people can carry and spread the disease before they ever show symptoms, that question must be considered by those who enact public policy.

The governor’s decision to start reopening our economy carries its own risks, and its success requires that we remain cautious and continue practicing preventative measures. We should keep covering our faces in public, maintain a safe distance and practice safe hygiene to keep lingering germs from gaining a new foothold and resurging.

Return of our freedoms can’t come fast enough for some people. But let us maintain safe habits to show that we deserve those freedoms and know how to handle them.