It is more important than ever to have responsible, thoughtful leaders representing our local governments. In times of crisis and strife, we look to leaders and advocates from Governor Cooper to our county’s local Sheriff to guide and protect our collective experiences as we traverse troubled times, together. Certain events like Hurricane Florence or COVID-19 bring us to our knees through life’s most difficult moments — at the very least, we should be able to believe that each-other’s best interest is as at heart.
If you aren’t aware, Alderwoman Sabrina Bengel and former Mayor and Attorney Lee Bettis host a show on the Facebook-centric New Bern Live page called CityTalk. The show is largely driven by banter and opinion on current events both locally and nationally, and the duo certainly share some very raw thoughts on many complex issues facing the American people. Last week, they tackled the Coronavirus pandemic.
There is so much I want to say in this moment, and I can only describe the conversation that occurred as disheartening. New Bern does not exist in a vacuum as Bengel frequently attempts to portray, using straw-man arguments to undermine and avoid current pressing conversations on topics such as race relations in the United States, often espousing phrases such as “don’t bring the world’s problems to New Bern” in response to local protests occurring in town. This in itself is wildly contradictory to her textbook role as an Alderperson serving a primarily working-class population with many Black and Brown constituents. I can only assume that she views this current health crisis through the same lens, as Craven County’s confirmed cases have been relatively low at 673. She and Bettis shared some laughs over what they essentially recognize as an inconvenience following Governor Coopers’ newest addendum to his COVID-19 Response plan. Since they can’t seem to understand exactly why the 11 p.m. time constraint was placed on alcohol sales, I figured I would break it down for them so that we can actually (finally) have a constructive conversation about our path forward to recovery from the devastation of this pandemic on our community and the world.
The true concern of everyday, uninsured constituents facing the looming fear of paralyzing medical debt is not lost on me. As a young person who is largely financially independent, possibly contracting the Coronavirus could cost me anywhere from thirty to seventy thousand dollars in hospital bills if I’m lucky. I am not afraid of getting sick, I am terrified of having to pay for it. So please, if nothing else, consider the simple fact that not all of us have the luxury of confronting this illness with any sort of confidence that we will be financially secure on the other side.
Now, to Alderman Odham’s point, perhaps the reasoning behind Gov. Cooper’s decision is largely to control young people from abusing the standing ordinance that prevents bars from opening. While it is true that our town does not have any major universities, it does have young people and adults who continue to willfully disobey the initial mask order. Alderwoman Bengal is one of those people — seen frequently in public without any sort of face covering. If we were more responsive to this crisis in March on a local level, there would be no need for current restrictions imposed by the State government. All it takes is one massive outbreak for thousands of people to become sick, many of whom will die.
Bettis mentions that he “doesn’t want the government” telling him what to do, therefore I assume that he also refuses to wear a mask in public unless it is absolutely mandatory. I feel as though this statement totally ignores the ten families in New Bern, including a healthcare worker, are confronting the loss of their loved ones as a direct result of the very virus that they are dismissing.
It’s time that we give weight to the words we speak into this world. I want to be very clear that there is plenty of room to be critical of the government’s handling of this pandemic, and that the conversation is absolutely important to be had. That being said, this isn’t a topic to be discussed passively, or with the mindset that one side has to “win” because nobody does. What we know about this virus develops daily, and the one thing that we can be certain of is that at the very least, wearing a mask protects our most vulnerable population and our already fragile healthcare system. Yes, underlying conditions make us more susceptible to the terrifying reality of a fatal outcome, but no one is immune from the grief of losing someone dear to us. That suffering alone should be enough of an incentive to take every extreme measure possible to mitigating as many infections as we can.
I cannot monitor what is said behind closed doors, but I can strongly encourage that when speaking on a public platform into the void of social media, we are a bit more tactful in the presentation of our arguments. It just doesn’t sit well with me to listen to my representative weave lighthearted jokes into the narrative of a real threat to myself and my neighbors. Not one reassuring mention of solution was offered, not one actionable item was presented, only flippant jokes and snide remarks about what has become one of the most detrimental, ongoing financial crises our country has faced yet.
I hope that next time they decide to discuss such pressing matters, the conversation is fractionally more intelligent.