PRIVATE AND PUBLIC RISKS OF COVID-19
Risk of catching COVID-19 while going to work is like driving on a public road. You could die, but with observation and caution, it is safe enough and not worth worrying about a homicidal driver.
Probability of transmission to you of COVID-19 virus particles, from infectious persons, has opaque and complex processes too difficult for you to quantify your chances of infection. If you are a risk adverse person, isolation is a logical response to minimise exposure. But you may be expected to go to work, need to earn, or want not to cringe because learned helplessness is bad for your health.
Nietzsche advocated personal fulfilment by taking risks without consideration for others, as taken up by Hitler and Stalin. A propensity for cavalier response to danger resides in your brain’s amygdala, especially if you are male and under 30 years. If you only have yourself to think about, without consequences for your family, friends and colleagues, or for people who you might unknowingly infect, it is easier to face the risk and forget potential consequences.
Simone De Beauvoir wanted the individual to seek their own existential freedom by respecting others’ freedoms. You could risk going out to free yourself but only after anticipating your responsibilities to others if you became infected.
When your calculations would include medical consequences for yourself and for those you care about, you might fear the worst and prefer isolation. If going to work would have consequences for the business and for your employer, you might remember that all business is inherently risky and the terms of your employment require you to sacrifice freedoms. A utilitarian would expect your decision to go to work to be of practical use to you, such as by earning, rather than to exercise freedom.
Analysis of expected risks can clarify the best course of action to take. There could be clear and present danger from going out, but with insufficient likelihood of incurring costs that would exceed the value of certain benefits you expect.
Because employers and employees have different interests, governments may step in with guidance. They may decide responsibly who to lockdown and who to go to work. They may give financial support. Economy-wide, the amount of relief to be paid by the community could be staggering. The contributions of those who take personal risks may be insufficient to ensure economic survival of a community supporting those who avoid risk. Private risk may not be covered by public indemnity. An individual’s best protection is to be forewarned and free to choose what risks they will or will not take.