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The COVID-19 Leadership Void Comes Home to Roost

COVID-19 has killed 2.3 times more Americans than died in the Vietnam war. On April 28, the death toll hit 58,365, and now it’s up to 138,339, with 920 new deaths reported yesterday (Thursday). The case counts are increasing, and the positivity rate is steady at around 9%. We broke a record with 75,080 new cases yesterday, while Europe and much of the world that dealt with flattening the curve are seeing drastically lower case counts.

What happened? Well, America is a large country, and there are some places where coronavirus hasn’t touched anyone. In fact, given the number of people killed by the virus, in the news, it’s a fairly invisible killer, because social distancing doesn’t allow us to see the atrocity. During Vietnam, we saw nightly body counts on the news, but we also saw the bodies. With this killer, we see social media posts and hear terrible stories, but the visuals escape.

What we do see is thousands of people breaking social distancing to protest racial inequality and police brutality. We see stores and restaurants opening just at the critical time when these protests were happening. We see people heading to the beach, on vacation, and Disney World reopening (albeit with full countermeasures).

As recently as the end of June, The New York Times reported their survey results showing 84 percent of voters claimed to trust medical scientists to provide reliable information about the virus. While more Republicans said they trusted President Trump than Dr. Anthony Fauci, in general, they still trusted “medical scientists” as a general class more than anyone else.

The lack of strong, national leadership here is telling. President Trump didn’t lead the nation through COVID-19; he put on a television show. If he put up a phone number chyron and had a bank of celebrity-manned phones, it would have been a wonderful telethon. But states and cities were largely on their own, as I heard from local political leaders here in the Atlanta suburbs.

That lack of leadership has resulted in side-shows like Gov. Brian Kemp having to sue Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. The press is reporting this as a dispute over face masks, but it’s really that Bottoms wants to close businesses that the governor, by executive order, allows to be open.

Masks are a red herring. Yes, we should wear them whenever we’re in a public place like a store or a mall. That’s for businesses to enforce, and businesses should enforce it. I have no patience or sympathy for people who whine and complain that they’re not allowed in a Trader Joe’s because they don’t have a mask. Wear the stupid mask and save others from your ignorance, because it seems you’re a carrier of that disease too.

I don’t agree that government should enforce mask wearing. Are we really going to have police go around and ticket people for not wearing a mask? And then you’ll eventually have someone resist, and someone will be hurt or killed, or will kill a police officer over a stupid mask. I think it’s important that people wear masks when appropriate, but it’s not worth someone’s life for not wearing one. Just avoid that person and keep them out of confined indoor locations.

The problem here is that the leader of the nation abdicated his bully pulpit, which he’s very fond of when it comes to “fake news,” baiting the press, “Russia hoax” and ratings bashing political and media foes, when he could have done much more to lead the nation. Trump played politics with Washington state, Michigan, and California governors. He played politics with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

He played politics with the protests after George Floyd’s killing by a police officer. But he didn’t stand up and tell the truth, that this virus is dangerous, and it’s not going away until we put it away. Instead, states began to open just as the protests heated up. That brought the virus from big cities into smaller suburbs, where protests were generally peaceful.

Now we have a mess that will likely require another lockdown, and the economic consequences of the second lockdown will be far worse than the first. Kids are going to miss returning to school (in person). Fulton County schools suddenly reversed its decision to open in person learning and switched to online, just a month before opening. This threw working parents, day care, and preschool planning into complete and utter chaos.

The chaos was avoidable. This isn’t a hindsight argument. I don’t think Trump (or anyone) could have foreseen that COVID-19 would become the pandemic that ate America back in January. In January, the nation (well, the media at least) was gripped by Trump’s impeachment. The president was distracted also. Trump’s decision to limit travel to/from China, then in March to/from Europe was wise, but it was too late.

Ventilators became a political football, but really, it never became the issue everyone thought it would be. Ask ten out of ten doctors if they think ventilators are good tools for recovery and they’ll all tell you it’s a last resort, that many people die as a result of ventilators, and many of them will say they’d sign a medical order that they wouldn’t want to be put on one, long-term.

A bigger effect on the medical community is the fact that COVID-19 is forcing them to create huge isolation wards, put off elective surgery (“elective” is a buzzword, because some elective surgery is really life-lengthening, if not life-saving, just not for an acute “I’m going to die now” condition), and in general displace capacity needed for sick people who aren’t sick with COVID-19.

Many people are dying because COVID-19 has created conditions making their care much harder than it was without the virus. The faster we beat the virus, the less people will die of things other than the virus.

And don’t even get me started about Gov. Cuomo. That man has taken every political ladder and stepped on hands and heads in his climb to “victory,” even as New York has more deaths than Massachusetts, California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania (no. 3, 4, 5, and 6 respectively by death count), combined. New York has double the deaths of the number two state by death count, New Jersey. By comparison, Florida, whose Gov. DeSantis has been vilified by the press, is number 8, with 22 weekly cases per capita, compared to New York’s 165.

Granted, Florida is showing a massive spike right now, with people outdoors at beaches and inside in malls. But the spike is among younger people, and the deaths are generally in the older population. Florida did a much, much better job protecting its elderly than New York, who threw them under the bus (and into the nursing homes).

This competition in the media and in politics could have been avoided. It wasn’t–it was even encouraged–and now we’re paying the price for it.

At this point, we probably have to start over again. I think, state by state, governors will be forced to go back to lockdown in some way. This isn’t the second wave, it’s the cost of lack of leadership. In Georgia, Gov. Kemp is doing everything he can to avoid this step, but if mayors don’t listen to him, and the people don’t listen to the mayors, and the president keeps pushing for opening–with nobody leading, everyone is out for themselves.

Since we don’t see coronavirus every night on television, the numbers become another numbing statistic. 138,000 dead, then 140,000, then 150,000 dead. Until it hits you personally, it becomes out of sight, out of mind.

Americans may say they trust medical experts, but they stopped listening to them two months ago. Without leadership, now we’re paying the price.


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