Something that began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 continues, a year later, to have a monstrous impact on the way Americans live their lives.
We are less free today because a Chinese virus came our way -- and because of the way some politicians have reacted to it.
Start with the science: COVID-19 originated in China.
"As COVID-19 began spreading in Wuhan, China, it became an epidemic," says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Because the disease then spread across several countries and affected a large number of people, it was classified as a pandemic."
Specifically, as this column has reported before, the CDC confirmed that the first 11 cases of COVID-19 in the United States all traced back to Wuhan, China. Nine were in people who had just returned from Wuhan. Two were in people who lived in the same household as one of those nine.
As of Dec. 15, according to the CDC, there have been 16,317,892 COVID-19 cases in the United States and 300,032 deaths.
In addition to sickening and killing people, this Chinese virus has made the way Americans live -- under restrictions imposed by government -- a bit more like the way people live in the People's Republic.
In China, says the State Department's human rights report for 2019 (before the pandemic), the "government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association."
"Concerts, sports events, exercise classes, or other meetings of more than 200 persons require approval from public security authorities," says the report. "Large numbers of public gatherings in Beijing and elsewhere were canceled at the last minute or denied government permits, ostensibly to ensure public safety."
In California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a "stay at home order" this month for regions where the "Intensive Care Unit capacity drops below 15 percent." Under the order, when that threshold is reached, everything from "outdoor playgrounds" to "movie theaters" to "bars" to "live audience sports" must be closed.
For the counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, the state order did not go far enough. They mandated an immediate shutdown.
The Bay Area county of Santa Clara went even further, issuing an order stating that "all athletic activities that involve contact or close proximity are prohibited during this time."
As a result, the Santa Clara-based San Francisco 49ers moved to Arizona -- where they now play in an empty stadium.
Similarly, the Rose Bowl, a New Year's Day tradition in Los Angeles county, will be played in front of zero fans this year, as the Pasadena Star-News has reported, "due to COVID-19 protocols set forth by state, county, and city of Pasadena officials."
Would "social distancing" not be possible for 1,000 or 2,000 people in a stadium that seats 91,136?
In China, the government restricts the movement of people within its borders. "The law provides for freedom of internal movement ... but the government at times did not respect these rights," says the State Department's report.
Maryland is not as strict. It "recommends that all Marylanders refrain from non-essential travel outside of Maryland due to the recent increase in COVID-19 infections in other states," according to a travel advisory issued Nov. 10 under orders from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
"You should immediately cancel or postpone travel to any of these states with spiking metrics," Hogan said, according to the Baltimore Sun.
In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo requires two tests and a three-day quarantine for people entering from another state of the union. "Travelers must get tested within three days prior to landing in New York, quarantine for at least three days upon arrival, and get a test on day four of arrival," says his order.
In China, the government restricts religious practices, including when and where people can gather to worship.
"Worshipping in a space without prior approval, gained either through the formal registration process or by seeking an approval for each service, is considered an illegal religious activity, which may be criminally or administratively punished," says the State Department report on religious freedom in China.
In March, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened to close churches permanently if they did not follow his orders.
"So, the NYPD, Fire Department, Buildings Department, and everyone has been instructed that if they see worship services going on, they will go to the officials of that congregation, they'll inform them they need to stop the services and disperse," said de Blasio. "If that does not happen, they will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently."
On Oct. 6, Cuomo issued an order allowing only 10 people at a time into "houses of worship" in regions he calls "red zones" and only 25 at a time in regions he calls "orange zones." He placed no similar restrictions on large retail stores.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America took Cuomo to the Supreme Court and won an injunction. "They have shown," said the court, "that their First Amendment claims are likely to prevail."
Newsom must have thought Cuomo's treatment of churches was too lenient. "For counties in high-risk areas, which covers most of the state," the San Francisco Chronicle reported this month, "the governor is forbidding all indoor worship services because of the rise in COVID cases, while allowing 25% indoor attendance in moderate-risk counties."
This, too, is now being challenged in court.
The State Department human rights report says: "The People's Republic of China is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party is the paramount authority."
The United States is not an authoritarian state. Nor are we run by the Communist Party. But the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated there are politicians in this country who are quite willing to issue unilateral orders on issues as profound as where and when a person can go to church.
Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor in chief of CNSnews.com.