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Opinion: Michiganians prioritize their neighbors' needs

Greg McNeilly

For the next few weeks at least, Michiganians are going to experience a very new kind of normal. Schools are closed. Parishioners are gathering for Sunday morning worship on the internet. Businesses are encouraging their team members to work remotely. Sports are canceled. So are vacations.

Business-as-usual doesn’t fly when a global pandemic comes knocking.

To wit, this column. Once a month, I have the privilege of submitting to readers of the Detroit News’ editorial page a few words in defense of liberty, or in opposition to the policies and politics that would inhibit freedom.

There is great value in debate, and the exchange of ideas. We are a stronger state when we hold our elected officials accountable for their words, their deeds, their promises and their failures. There will be plenty of time for those debates again, and we will very soon engage in them, and vigorously.

Today, though, our jobs — each of us, no matter what we do “for a living” — are somewhat different, and so much more foundationally human.

At the outset of a global pandemic, it’s time to consider the needs of our neighbors, to care for the sick, to enable and empower our state’s remarkable health care professionals to meet their needs, and to take whatever steps are in our power to limit the spread of the virus dominating so much of the daily conversation.

Duane Newton works on developing a test for the coronavirus in the microbiology laboratory at the University of Michigan.

This isn’t news to any of you. Michiganians have been doing it all along. When news first broke about the COVID-19 virus sweeping China, then Iran, then Italy, they prayed for the victims, they supported charities and ministries that sought to help, and they began taking extra precautions to limit the spread of the disease to those in the United States least equipped physically to combat it.

When the virus arrived in the United States weeks later, it wasn’t the state or federal government that first began canceling major sporting events and public gatherings to protect patrons and those they would come in contact with from potential exposure.

There wasn’t an emergency declaration from the White House that put an end to March Madness — and sacrificed the estimated $1 billion in revenue generated by the basketball tournament. The NBA and the NHL and Major League Baseball didn’t postpone their seasons and training programs because of a governmental fiat.

Michigan State freshmen Julia Blumbergs of Beverly Hills, Mich., left, and Gabby Peruski of Grosse Pointe hug as they move their belongings out of South Wonders Residence Hall on the MSU campus in East Lansing March 11.

It didn’t take an Oval Office address to convince employers to empower team members to work remotely, or to take extra time to care for sick children or family members.

Individuals and workers, and families, and businesses and ministries have been stepping up to the plate for weeks doing the extra little and the extra big things both to make a difference.

No, these sacrifices to income and livelihood and lifestyle were born willingly by the Americans — and the Michiganians — that were directly and immediately impacted, because they understood that they are confronted with a challenge unique to their generation. Their answer was personal sacrifice and selflessness.

Those elected to serve in local, state and national government have the remarkable privilege of leading such a remarkable people and seem to have been ennobled by them through this crisis. They too have made incredibly difficult decisions, and our state and our communities will be safer and healthier for them.

This isn’t our first global pandemic.

In 1968, 100,000 Americans lost their lives to the Hong Kong flu.

In 1918, the Spanish Flu swept through the nation, claiming the lives of 650,000, including 15,000 in Michigan.

Thanks to the spirit of sacrifice, and Michiganians' willingness to so quickly put the needs of others before their own, our prospects look much better in 2020.

Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.