Personal choice.

So empowering to have when it comes to choosing a partner, a school, a religion.

Not so much when it comes to following rules of the road, applying pesticides, hunting.

All of those actions take public buy-in and the expectation of following laws or societal norms that make them as safe as possible.

Why is protecting one another’s health falling into a different category these days?

“Personal choice” has become the mantra for the decision of refusing to get vaccinated or wear masks to protect yourself and others from getting seriously sick from COVID-19. Choosing not to follow pandemic protocols isn’t about your comfort level or right to make choices; it’s about protecting public health, which includes young children who have less or no protection.

Personal choice might come into play if you live by yourself underground. But you don’t. You shop in stores. You go to church. You go to bars. You go to school to pick up children or grandchildren.

If you are in the company of just one other person or venture out into public for anything, your “personal choice” doesn’t apply during a public health crisis as monumental as this one.

This virus will continue to circulate as long as a large portion of the public fails to realize that individual rights aren’t part of the pandemic playbook. Freedom is a wonderful thing, but COVID-19 doesn’t care that you choose not to recognize it as the threat it is.

As the son of a Mankato woman who died of COVID-19 said about his mother, Dianne Honermann: “She knew that what actually used to make America great was people taking care of each other. She practiced that in her daily life. Wearing a mask to protect others is a patriotic act.”

She was one of the unlucky victims who died despite being vaccinated after exposure at a group gathering where others were unvaccinated.

Vaccines have a track record of alleviating other epidemics or pandemics. Imagine how many children would have died in this country if parents would have rejected the polio vaccine? Because of the vaccine, this country has been free of polio since 1979.

Adhering to stances can make people feel like they have control of their own destiny. Most of us don’t like to be told what to do. But the strong potential of spreading the virus by refusing to wear masks or getting vaccinated makes this a different scenario. A dangerous and sometimes deadly one.

The information is available. Hospitals across the country and the world are filling up mostly with the unvaccinated. In our own backyard, the region’s case growth is accelerating, spiking from 565 to 807 in just a week. The state’s pandemic death toll rose by 14 more cases on Friday to 7,983.

The proof is right in front of us that the virus is not under control. Make the decision of getting vaccinated so that your personal choice doesn’t hurt the life of anyone else.

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