COVID regulations hinder our pursuit of true health

Photo by Colin Lancaster

There is an illness in our midst, and it may not be the one we think. American culture surrounding medicine is sick, and we have a malformed idea of bodily health. 

The way our culture approaches medicine is disordered because we know neither the end of medicine nor how to achieve it. We view its aim as happiness or even an immortalization of the limited body. Contemporary medicine often fails to take account of the whole good of the human person. 

Aristotle begins the Nicomachean Ethics with the words: “Every art and every kind of inquiry, and likewise every act and purpose, seems to aim at some good.” By the logic of his initial assertion, Aristotle later proclaims that the end of medicine is health. 

The aim of health is twofold. We discern its first aim from the Old English root of the word “health,” meaning “soundness” or “wholeness.” The second aim is supplied by two Greek words often translated as “health”: hygieia and euexia. Hygieia means living well, or a good way of living. Today we use the word “hygiene” to refer to common-sense practices such as brushing your teeth, washing your hands or showering regularly. Euexia aids in the aim to live well because it allows us to possess the good habits necessary to fulfill our telos, our ultimate aim.

The words health, hygieia and euexia, reflect the twofold aims of medicine: wholeness and living well. COVID-19 regulations attack both of these aims and prevent us from fulfilling our telos.

Our ultimate goal is eudaimonia. Each individual should strive to live the good life, a life in which man reasons well, ordering the soul upon the principle of rationality. 

Bodily health is a good. We are caretakers and stewards of our bodies. Yet, it is clear that the necessity to care for our bodies is not our ultimate end.

The highest human goods cannot be achieved without the body, for humans are a unity of body and soul. However, if we begin to seek bodily health purely for its own sake, we cease to see its twofold purpose as both a good in itself and a means to a higher end. Friendship, service, and worship require some degree of health. 

To live according to the eudaimonic life, Aristotle stipulates that friendship is necessary. 

According to Aristotle in book eight of Nicomachean Ethics, the highest form of friendship requires familiarity and time spent together. COVID-19 regulations prevent such friendship by essentially isolating us. 

Online interactions divide and simplify us into pixels, separating us from our essence. On a screen, three-dimensional persons become flat. The turning of the soul that naturally occurs in the classroom becomes a merely digital affair. Virtual classes divide the teacher from the student and divide the student from the peer. 

These regulations bodily and emotionally separate us through physical distance. Since it’s already difficult to meet and grow close with new people, even our dorm-mates, restrictions prohibit new friendships from forming. They are an inhibition on community life and inhibit us from fulfilling our telos.

To live healthy lives we must observe the language of the body to understand how we should use it and treat it.

We can know the telos of the face from observation. Our faces are created to display thousands of complicated social cues, cues necessary to communicate our understanding, our comfort level and the content of our heads and hearts. We use the face to communicate; the face is made for display. When we lose half of our faces to masks, we pay the price of a lessened education, lessened friendships and a lessened life.

Therefore, as COVID-19 regulations attack the aim of health, wholeness and living well, they cannot be described as healthy. As the word “health” continues to be used in the context of masking, distancing and stifling of the community, we continue to disfigure our conception of what it means to be a healthy person.

To clarify, we are not arguing that these regulations must be stripped away nor masks abandoned. We should not be reckless, yet we also cannot avoid risk at all costs. 

This is not a cry for revolution, but a call for reflection. 

We should prudently discern a mean that not only reflects the opinions of those experts on bodily health, but also centers around the prime human good in a holistic way. 

An excess of care for bodily health occurs when it begins to dehumanize ourselves and our fellow man. The pursuit of health should allow man to be human, to fulfill our telos of reasoning and reflection in the rationally ordered soul and life. COVID-19 restrictions dehumanize us, flattening us into pixels, divide us from our faces, and separate us from the prime means of reaching an ordered soul: friendship and community.

At the end of February, UD experienced its first real Friday on the Mall in weeks; a month of heightened coronavirus regulations and an infamous snow week had smothered student life.  Companions gathered joyfully to celebrate a campus ritual. Music, booming laughter and brazen shouts echoed loudly down the Mall: a hymn to the weekend. 

As friends, long isolated by ice and hidden by false faces, mustered to dance to Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose,” a UD officer encroached upon each group. One-by-one, conversations died in awkward silence as the COVID-19 regulation enforcer told them to “distance themselves” and “mask up.” Friends drifted back to their dorms or to separated corners of campus. The football stopped flying and Capp Bar cups disappeared. Music still played, but it played on an empty Mall.  

As of April 11, there is one active student COVID-19 case on the Irving campus. We are sick, but clearly not with COVID-19.

10 COMMENTS

  1. You make some valid points, but at this point I think it best that we finish what we started, else we risk throwing out the good work that our professors, school staff and security officers provided in order to keep us safe. Already 1 in 600 Texans have died from the virus, and we still have thousands of people on campus and nearby, who would inevitable suffer if we further dismantle the regulations. Just as quitting at the final leg of a race is foolish so too is dropping our protections when herd immunity is within sight. An astounding 53% of all Texans have already had at least one shot of vaccine, would it not be more prudent to see this through to the end?

    • Yes! this is a very interesting point, and exactly what the article seems to get at. What is the end, what will it look like, how will we know when we get there, and when will it be prudent to relax restrictions? There is a tradeoff implicit in covid restrictions. You do good by slowing the spread of the disease, but there are serious consequences to the emotional health of the individual. The majority of those 50,000 Texans died while restaurants were closed, masks were mandated state wide, gatherings of more than 10 were illegal, and curfews were in place. The restrictions slowed the spread, and certainly prevented many deaths.

      Now that the most vulnerable are vaccinated, It seems reasonable to allow those without preexisting conditions to act like healthy people again.

  2. Good argument about how nice it is to be close to people and see their faces, but I think you left out the part where COVID-19 is a serious and deadly virus with potential to permanently damage one’s health and wellbeing. Self-righteous iliads about the beauty of human closeness feel pretty weak when you consider the potential damage to the community health. Keep following guidelines until we can be sure of our safety.

    • There is no surety of safety. The argument is philosophical, so it cannot be blamed for not mentioning the increasing mental health crisis, as well as the weight gain which is exacerbating America’s problem with Diabetes. Self-righteous comments about a disease (which the authors are well aware of ) seem pretty weak when compared to the potential long term damage to community health. Please remember that there are serious costs to precautions that isolate people, and that unnecessarily extended precautions provide a false sense of security while harming individuals.

  3. Very well-written and thought-provoking article. Something else to consider: as of January 2019, 11% of American adults reported struggling with anxiety and depression. This percentage rose to 41% as of January 2021. This seems to beg the question: are COVID restrictions really ‘keeping us safe,’ or making us feel safe, at the very least?

  4. I emphatically and entirely disagree with the writers of this article. As someone with a serious congenital heart condition, I have had to stay back from UD for a year precisely because of the scorn for Covid which this article conveys.

    You say this is a call to reflection; I’ve reflected quite a bit on the pandemic during my 2 semesters online, at home, isolated from my friends. I’d wager that I’ve thought, prayed, ached, and wept over it far more than many UD students. But I knew that this loneliness was necessary, even if it pained me beyond expression. The sad truth is that I spent a year of my undergraduate degree at home because I could not rely on my own peers to do their basic Christian duty: looking out for their more vulnerable sisters and brothers in Christ. I had to estrange myself from the UD community because I could not depend on its members to respect that others were weaker in health than they. This is not a call for pity, a lament of “woe is me,” but a matter of fact.

    Those same people whom I know to attend daily mass and frequent confession are the same who joke of burning their masks. “It’s not personal,” my mom tells me, sighing, “it’s just how their politics are.” Perhaps. But it’s rather hard to not take such words personally when I’m the one who has to deal with their consequences. The best I can do is offer up my hurt in prayer, and be thankful that I was able to be vaccinated before Governor Abbott lifted the mask mandate. If I hadn’t received both doses beforehand, I would still be back in Ohio with my family, graduating on Zoom.

    I’m sorry that the authors have felt their telos to be in jeopardy. But I think many folks on ventilators would say the same, albeit for very different reasons.

    • I’m sorry that you were robbed of your time at UD. Yet I don’t think your reason for staying back makes any sense. Did you not go to school because you assumed UD students would not follow precautions, or did you stay back because you new that Corona Virus can be spread despite social distancing and mask do not prevent, but only slow the spread of the disease. It would have been a grave mistake to come back before receiving the vaccine no matter how seriously people took the precautions. Lockdowns, masks, social distancing, and limiting social gatherings only served to slow the rate of infection.

      Since you had to remain in lockdown so long, you know how devastating it is for the mind. Many people have deteriorating mental health, and if you had spent as much time with American healthcare system as I have, you know it has completely inadequate resources for dealing with mental health issues.

      You diminish a serious problem when you say, “the authors felt their telos to be in jeopardy”. As the vaccines are being distributed to at risk people such as yourself, it is correct to contemplate removing restrictions. Lockdown and other covid restrictions were known to be a tradeoff between mental health and economic stability, and prevention of a highly infectious and potentially deadly disease. Now that high risk groups of people are vaccinated, the economic, social, and mental needs of individuals is beginning to outweigh the need to prevent the spread of covid. In other words, the cost of continued covid precautions are becoming too costly for the benefits they provide.

      If lucid and honest thoughts such as this article are continuing to be met with hostility, than I worry people have lost sight of what real health looks like.

  5. At this point I’m just confused why people are still upset about basic COVID precautions. Like it’s been a whole year why are we still mad about wearing masks? It’s not like its anything new at this point. Is that really the hill you want to die on?

  6. Y’all don’t ever get tired of waxing poetic, do you? I’m glad your Phil & Eth class taught you some good terms and you know how to use them, but honestly the UD “bubble” seems to be continuing to cloud your reasoning a bit. If people actually follow covid precautions then we can more quickly return to our normal lives. If y’all had been keeping your distance and wearing a mask when you were dancing, then you probably wouldn’t have been “encroached upon,” as you so described it.

    I know UD students have critical thinking skills— I really know they do. I just wish they’d use it to be a bit more realistic. We’re in a pandemic, not in time-out. This isn’t a punishment, it’s a precaution. Take care of yourselves and your neighbors, that way we can all return to our old lives *together*.

    • Its discouraging to see that UD students forget the reason they learn in philosophy less then a decade after graduating. Such a well balanced and reasonable article deserves a more honest reading.

      Americans are so pathetically bad at understanding healthcare. Honestly, that’s probably why your medical systems are so screwed up. You think of a person way you think of a car. If it breaks you fix it. Unfortunately you cannot treat people like that. Humans are not like that.

      What you really need is a wholistic approach to healthcare, that includes a sound body and sound mind. Banning all recreational activities, forcing people to wear masks, physically avoid each other, and have no interactions has been devastating to mental health. Not to mention the terrible weight gain in isolation that Americans are so fond of Joking about. I suppose if your country is already famous for high diabetes rates, you might as well laugh about it. People may not be getting a virus, but they are not living either. It is similar to the Narcotics crisis in America. People have pain so you treat it with painkillers. The fact that painkillers are terrible for your body, and will become a life long addiction is not of consequence. The severe lockdowns and incredible fear that people live in will effect them for the rest of their lives. PPE is not meant to prevent people from contracting covid. It is meant to delay it, not prevent it indefinitely. When you misunderstand that, you miss the point of ever going into lockdown. Trying to pretend a community could avoid covid altogether if they just wore masks is pseudoscience. All covid precautions are implemented to slow the spread, so that everyone would be able to receive medical treatment. The sacrifice of all social aspects of the human life in a vain effort to avoiding a highly infectious disease is a ridiculous.

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