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Mike Rowe Encourages 'Sensible Approach' to Dealing with COVID

AP Photo/David Richard, File
AP Photo/David Richard, File

Mike Rowe, known for his common-sense talk, is encouraging Americans to find a “sensible approach” to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Far be it from me to instigate a food fight between the extremes, but I will say this — somewhere between the ‘Safety Firsters’ and ‘Covid-Hoaxers,’ there’s got to be a sensible approach to living in a dangerous world that’s eventually going to kill us all,” he wrote Tuesday. “That approach, in my opinion, is ‘Safety Third,’ a friendly alternative to ‘Safety First.'”

Rowe was referring to a concept he first introduced in 2014, when he was hosting his popular show “Dirty Jobs.” At the time, he told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta he came up with the two-word motto — “Safety Third” — as a way to remind people their safety is their responsibility, and as such, is something they should take seriously for themselves, rather than expecting someone else to keep them from harm.

Watch him talk about it here:

“When I say ‘safety third,'” he told Gupta, “it’s such a ridiculous thing to hear, that it takes you out of your pattern — at least it did with my crew — and it was the way we reminded each other, ‘Look, it doesn’t matter. Just because you’re in compliance doesn’t mean you’re out of danger.'”

In his post this week, Rowe explained Americans can’t live in so much fear and follow so many stringent restrictions they’re no longer functioning in society.

Rowe recalled back to the Mayflower, noting the risks those on the ship took to seek the reward they discovered.

“Four hundred years ago, one hundred and two Pilgrims climbed aboard an eighty-foot boat and sailed three-thousand miles through violent seas to a place they’d never even seen, just so they could worship the God they believed in,” he wrote. “Forty-five of them died along the way. Nearly half! But somehow, they endured. And thanks to them, we not only have a Thanksgiving to celebrate, we have a country to call home.”

Sitting on the Tarmac in an airplane bound for San Francisco, Rowe thought about the fact that his safety on his trip “was something that no one could promise.” He continued:

I wondered in that moment, how the Pilgrims felt when they boarded the Mayflower? I wondered if their Captain assured them that “their safety was his priority?” And then I wondered, what would they make of our reaction to this virus today? What would they think of our decision to lock down our houses of worship, along with everything else, in order to fight a disease that might wind up killing a fraction of a percentage of the population? A disease far less deadly than the plagues they dealt with every year?


“Safety Third” is not a call to take unnecessary risk, it’s just another way to say, “be careful out there, but not so careful that you’re unable to function.” It’s also a good-natured reminder that nothing worthwhile in the long history of our species has ever been accomplished by those whose who were unwilling to assume some degree of risk.

In early May, when coronavirus-induced lockdowns first began spreading across the country, Rowe told conservative talk radio host Glenn Beck that the country needed to establish some sort of “risk equilibrium,” noting such stringent measures — which are being deployed again as winter approaches — carry with them additional consequences.

He told Beck:

There are times when safety first is wise and prudent. You don’t drive 55 when there’s an ice storm. You adjust, you recalibrate, you take the temperature of the room and you adjust your behavior. It’s called homeostatic risk, risk equilibrium.

We’re all hard-wired to adapt and adjust our behavior to the circumstances around us. There are times when putting safety above all things makes absolute sense, but there has never been a time where arbitraging everything else out of the equation — and venerating safety to the point that nothing else is even allowed to be discussed — there’s never been a point in our history, at least as I understand it, where that’s made a lick of sense.

Sooner rather than later, the former “Dirty Jobs” host argued at the time, Americans will reach a tipping point in their willingness to adhere to draconian measures.

“I think most of the country is going to come through this with the realization that we’re being treated like children and we’re being fed platitudes, bromides, and bowls of warm milk by people who want us to look at them as parents,” Rowe said.

Watch that interview here:

Anything Else?

Rowe’s writing this week was in response to a woman named Fran, who told the TV personality she feels depressed and often finds herself crying these days. She asked if Rowe has experienced a similar phenomenon.

He went on to list a series of things that have discouraged him since the start of the pandemic now many months ago. One of those things, he wrote, occurred to him while he was at the airport, waiting to board his flight to San Francisco:

From the moving sidewalk, I glided through the terminal and regarded my fellow travelers seated in the waiting areas, each with an empty seat between them. I was struck by the fact that all of them – and I mean every single one – were staring down at their screens. Hundreds of people, all searching for a connection – not with the people beside them – but with somebody else, someplace else. It made me sad, this new and heightened reliance on our screens. It made me wonder if the next lockdown will drive us even further apart? It made miss the days before smartphones, even as I glanced down to answer an urgent text from my office.

Rowe also told Fran he’s saddened by the distance that will be between him and his family this holiday season.

“On the flight back home, I thought of my mom and dad, who are about to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this Wednesday,” he wrote. “Alas, they will do so alone this year. In much the same way they will celebrate Thanksgiving. I’m grateful they have each other, but I’m sad and sorry that I won’t be there with them. Honestly, it’s enough to make a grown man weep. And so, I did…”

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