The recent tragic shooting on the Rust movie set shocked me. A good friend, a prominent cinematographer in Hollywood, texted me his blunt assessment: “Live rounds on a set. Ridiculously unprofessional.”
Humans are naturally shaken when there is a senseless loss of life. Or are they?
As a hospital physician who has personally watched many people die unnecessarily of COVID-19, I found this fatal filming accident to be a powerful metaphor that might help some people better grasp the pandemic reality that health care workers live with every day. That is, COVID-19 at any gathering of people (work, school, entertainment, etc.) is like “live rounds on a set … ridiculously unprofessional.”
Of course, it’s not exactly the same. The series of actions that led to the movie set accident can potentially be traced:
- Someone brought live rounds to the set.
- Someone loaded them in the gun.
- Someone shot the gun.
- Someone tragically died.
With most COVID-19 deaths, we will never be able to trace the actual trail of COVID-19 exposures and transmissions that led to Jane Doe’s death. Yet, the trail does exist.
Health care workers, and those who have lost friends or relatives, know that COVID-19 is a loaded weapon, waiting to infect and potentially kill the unprotected. When we unknowingly carry the “live” COVID-19 virus to work or school or other public places (unmasked, unvaccinated), we are essentially carrying “live rounds.”
I live in a beautiful part of Appalachia, in southwest Virginia, which is, unfortunately, an area of particularly low vaccination rates (40 to 45 percent) and an associated consistent flow of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients into our hospitals. There is a strong sense of personal pride, independence, and resistance to government interference here. On my way to work at a small rural hospital, along winding mountain roads, I pass two identical billboards which state in bold letters, draped with an American flag: “Freedom Shall Not Be Infringed.” The intended message is clear.
From my perspective as a health care provider, this message is dangerous propaganda. A fundamental lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the freedom we cherish as Americans does not include the freedom to harm others. Ironically, those who claim the right not to wear a mask or not to get vaccinated are actually taking away the right of others to work, learn, etc., in a safe environment. One of the primary reasons that “we the people” established a government was to protect us from harm.
For example, we would find it ridiculous to fight for the right to drive drunk, the right to speed past a school bus dropping off children, the right to pour toxic chemicals into waterways, or the right to beat our spouse. Americans, as citizens of a republic, have a right to be protected from harm. American freedom is not a reckless freedom that allows us to harm others. American freedom is a responsible freedom that guarantees mutual protection.
In summary, for those who say, “My decision not to get vaccinated has no effect on anyone else! Leave me alone,” that is simply not true. You, as an unvaccinated individual, can literally kill people by spreading the virus. You will never know who you killed, but someone obviously infected everyone that I’ve watched in the ICU dying of COVID-19. How would you feel if we could trace a death back to your decision not to wear a mask or get vaccinated? How would you feel listening to family members of this person cry in grief on the phone as I explain how their loved one has died? This is an experience that I have grown sick of.
Put the “live rounds” away. Vaccinate. Mask. Protect our cherished American freedom to live, work, and learn in a safe community and country.
David M. Mitchell is a hospitalist.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com