The issue: Federal leadership concerning COVID-19 has been abysmal.
What we think: States and communities will have to develop their own strategies.
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There is no better leadership barometer than turmoil. It’s easy to lead when things are going well. But test the mettle of a community, a state, a country, a planet, and the actions that matter (as well as those who called for them) will be entered into the annals of history.
As of this writing, the COVID-19 virus had spread to more than 7,000 people in the U.S. and more than 180 of those are in Colorado. The state has seen shuttered school districts and universities shifting to online teaching. Public events have been postponed or canceled to help “flatten the curve.” Local officials and health care experts have offered advice, to include limiting exposure to crowds and instituting social distancing.
These are uncertain times. However, following a horribly bungled address last week from President Donald Trump that had to be corrected, re-corrected, clarified and re-clarified, one thing has grown clearer: Much like Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017, each state will largely be left to their own devices to slow the spread of this disease and care for the afflicted.
David Wallace-Wells, writing in New York magazine, notes that during last week’s presidential address, “Trump finally seemed to even take the outbreak seriously, and yet he seemed only capable of conceiving a ‘response’ in terms of border control and tax cuts. This is a particular disease of the president’s, but it is also a representative one: Our leaders have spent so long focused on the value of economic growth they are likely to try to respond to any crisis, even a deeply urgent humanitarian one, as an economic problem to be solved with stimulus. What about hospital beds?”
Thankfully, we’ve seen some clear-headed and thoughtful leadership at the state level, and you can credit the governor.
Gov. Jared Polis spoke to his constituents last week about the state’s continuing efforts to contain the novel coronavirus. He declared a state of emergency last Tuesday which included a new emergency rule requiring service and hospitality employers to offer four days of paid leave for workers being tested for COVID-19.
Polis also saw to it that the state opened testing facilities, a resource that has not been adequately addressed federally.
The expansion of testing capacity is a priority, Polis said, “so that eventually we can reach the point — the sooner the better — where anybody exhibiting flu-like symptoms can get tested.”
Another of the governor’s priorities is to cut financial obstacles to testing. “We know that people are more likely to get tested if they know they won’t be penalized financially for exhibiting symptoms of the virus,” Polis said. “That’s why … my Department of Insurance instructed insurers across the state to waive costs and fees associated with providing the test.”
Polis also announced emergency rules limiting visitation to nursing facilities and emergency policies for senior and veterans centers and the state hospital system.
These are a few of the measures being taken at the state level. And they have something in common: They were announced in timely manner, they were clear and in line with recommendations from health care experts, they were based on logic and science, and they represented leadership in an otherwise chaotic time.
Compare Polis’ actions to those of the president.
Brad Brooks with Reuters wrote on March 13, “The coronavirus is not as bad as the seasonal flu. President Donald Trump is not worried about having had a direct exposure to the virus. The United States is in far better shape than other countries. … Those are some of the messages from Trump to the American public in recent days.
“They are textbook examples of disastrous communication during disease outbreaks, according to some researchers into the psychology of pandemics and how leaders can most effectively communicate to keep the public safe during them.”
Just days later, Trump declared a state of national emergency, contradicting every message he and his administration had previously released about the virus.
Only history will show the full picture of COVID-19’s impact. But when it comes to leadership, we only need look to the past couple weeks to know that Colorado, and every other state, will have to figure out most of this on their own.