3 moral virtues necessary for an ethical pandemic response and reopening


3 moral virtues necessary for an ethical pandemic response and ...

The health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are not equally felt. From the United States to Brazil and the United Kingdomlow-wage workers are suffering more than others and communities of color are most vulnerable to the virus.

Despite the disparities, countries are reopening without a plan to redress these unequal harms and protect the broader community going forward. Our ethics research examines the potential for using virtues as a guide for a more moral coronavirus response.

Virtues are applied morals – actions that promote individual and collective well-being. Examples include generosity, compassion, honesty, solidarity, fortitude, justice and patience. While often embedded in religion, virtues are ultimately a secular concept. Because of their broad, longstanding relevance to human societies, these values tend to be held across cultures.

We propose three core virtues to guide policymakers in easing out of coronavirus crisis mode in ways that achieve a better new normalcompassion, solidarity and justice.

1. Compassion

Compassion is a core virtue of all the world’s major religions and a bedrock moral principle in professions like health care and social work. The distinguishing characteristic of compassion is “shared suffering:” Compassionate people and policies recognize suffering and take actions to alleviate it.

As the French philosopher André Comte-Sponville said, compassion “means that one refuses to regard any suffering as a matter of indifference or any living being as a thing.”

Individual acts of compassion abound in the coronavirus crisis, like frontline health care professionals and neighbors who deliver food, among other examples.

Compassion and solidarity on display at New York’s Elmhurst Hospital, during the April peak of the city’s coronavirus outbreak. Noam Galai/Getty Images

Some pandemic-era policies also reflect compassion, such as regulations preventing evictions and expanding unemployment benefits and giving food aid to poor familes.

A compassion-guided reopening aimed at preventing or reducing human suffering would require governments to continually monitor and alleviate the pain of their people. That includes addressing new forms of suffering that arise as circumstances change.

2. Solidarity

In a global pandemic, the actions people do or don’t take affect the health of others worldwide. Such shared emergencies require solidarity, which recognizes both the inherent dignity of each individual person and the interdependence of all people. As United Nations officials have emphasized, “we are all in this together.”

Public health measures like stay-at-home orders, social distancing and wearing masks reflect solidarity. While compliance in the United States has not been universal, data indicate broad approval for these measures. A new study found that 80% of Americans nationwide support staying home and social distancing and 74% support using face coverings in public.

To achieve these acts of solidarity, the leaders most praised in their countries and abroad – from U.S. National Institutes of Health director Dr. Anthony Fauci to New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern – have relied primarily on moral persuasion, not threats of punishment.

By delivering clear information, giving simple and repeated behavioral guidance, and setting a good example, they’ve helped convince millions to take personal responsibility for protecting their community.

Face masks signal that wearers care about protecting others around them. Islam Dogru/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

3. Justice

Justice focuses on the fair distribution of resources and the social structures that enable what the Dutch philosopher Patrick Loobuyck has called a “condition of equality.”

Justice-oriented policies are necessary for a moral reopening because of the pandemic’s disproportionate health and economic impacts. The evidence clearly shows that communities of colorlow-income populationspeople in nursing homes and those on the margins of society, such as homeless people and undocumented immigrants, are hardest hit.

Justice-oriented policies would aim for equitable balancing of necessary pandemic resources. That means directing testing and health equipment toward vulnerable communities – as identified by COVID-19 tracking data and risk factors like housing density and poverty – and ensuring free, widespread vaccine distribution when it becomes available.

In the U.S., economic justice will also require aggressively investing in minority-run businesses and poorer areas to guard against further harm to owners, employees and neighborhoods.

Similarly, all American school children have lost critical classroom hours, but lower-income children have been disproportionately damaged by remote learning in part due to the digital divide and loss of free lunch programs. Justice would demand channeling additional resources to the students and schools that need them most.

A moral reopening

Using virtues to guide social policies is an old idea. It dates back at least to the Greek thinker Aristotle.

Social distance stickers to prepare Nepal’s empty Tribhuwan International Airport for reopening. Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto via Getty Images

New Zealand is a good example of virtuous pandemic policymaking, even considering its advantages in having wealth, low density and no land borders. Its coronavirus response included not only aggressive public health measures but also a well articulated message of being united in the COVID-19 fight and recurring government payments so workers did not have to risk their health for their job.

Note that it isn’t enough to apply just one virtue in a crisis of this magnitude. Policies built on compassion, solidarity and justice should be deployed in combination.

A compassionate post-pandemic response that does not address underlying inequalities, for example, ignores certain communities’ specific needs. Meanwhile, tackling specific injustices without engaging everyone in efforts like mask-wearing endangers the public health.

Bolstered by scientific evidence, virtue ethics can help nations reopen not just economically but morally, too.





The White House said it was following health experts’ advice. Then we learned it isn’t approving a key CDC document.


Diseases & Conditions | CDC

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany made a point at the start of Wednesday’s news briefing to emphasize that President Trump is following health experts’ advice as we enter what Trump has labeled the “next stage” of the coronavirus response — reopening the economy.

“As you are well aware, President Trump has consistently sided with the experts and always prioritized the health and safety of the American people,” McEnany said.

Several hours later, we got another example of the White House resisting what those health experts are advising.

The Associated Press reported around midnight that the White House had shelved planned guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The document, which was due nearly a week ago, was aimed at providing local authorities with step-by-step guidance on how to reopen:

The 17-page report by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen.
It was supposed to be published last Friday, but agency scientists were told the guidance “would never see the light of day,” according to a CDC official. The official was not authorized to talk to reporters and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

A coronavirus task force official told The Washington Post that the document has not been completely shelved but was in the process of being revised because it was “overly specific.” The official also indicated that it was felt the document was too broad, as “guidance in rural Tennessee shouldn’t be the same guidance for urban New York City.”

The denial, though, reinforces that the White House is reluctant to submit to the CDC’s more detailed prescriptions for reopening the economy. And it’s difficult to divorce the delay in this document’s publication from Trump’s anxiety to reopen the economy — and the tension that has created with past guidelines.

The administration in mid-April issued phased advice on when areas should start to reopen places such as restaurants and other nonessential businesses. But many states have moved forward with certain elements of reopening without actually satisfying those guidelines. Most notably, they have begun to reopen without meeting the Phase One guideline that they should see a decrease in confirmed coronavirus cases over a 14-day period.

As The Post’s Philip Bump reported, some states that have pushed forward with reopening have also seen an increase in cases — which would prevent them from satisfying the requirement for moving into Phase Two. That requirement is that the decline should continue for another 14 days after Phase One begins.

Issuing a detailed document would seemingly complicate further reopenings, because it would again restrict what states and local authorities are supposed to do.

The Washington Post’s Lena H. Sun and Josh Dawsey previewed what the document was set to look like last week. And they also obtained a draft of the document. The new guidelines were to go beyond the initial ones in prescribing specific actions that could be taken in each phase of the reopening. Advocates for reopening have worried that strict guidance could make it difficult for businesses, churches, child-care centers and other facilities to actually function.

Trump, who has long signaled a desire to begin reopening that economy sooner rather than later, has doubled down on that rhetoric in recent days. Despite a steady national death rate that approached previous highs on Tuesday and Wednesday, and even though cases continue to increase outside the major U.S. hotbed of New York City, Trump on Tuesday signaled that we are entering the “next stage” of reopening the economy.

“Thanks to the profound commitment of our citizens, we’ve flattened the curve, and countless American lives have been saved,” Trump said. “Our country is now in the next stage of the battle: a very safe phased and gradual reopening. So, reopening of our country — who would have ever thought we were going to be saying that? A reopening. Reopening.”

Trump has been resistant to the advice of the health officials around him, from the early days of the outbreak when he continuously downplayed the severity of the situation. On several occasions, this tension has boiled over.

We’re also hearing from those officials less and less. The CDC long ago ceased holding briefings on the coronavirus outbreak, and the White House coronavirus task force briefings, which often featured health experts Anthony S. Fauci and Deborah Birx, have now been halted in favor of less-frequent and less-coronavirus-focused briefings from McEnany. Fauci has also been prevented from testifying to the Democratic-controlled House, although he is still slated to testify in the GOP-controlled Senate and has continued doing some interviews. The cumulative effect is that these health experts aren’t on the record as much as the effort to reopen the economy begins in earnest.

In the place of those public comments, the CDC guidelines were to provide firm and detailed advice from those officials for the new stage. But for reasons that seem pretty conspicuous, we still don’t have them.