Jeff Sadow

The same lack of vision and leadership that caused Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards to botch the opening rounds of Louisiana’s response to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic threatens the same for the emergency’s endgame.

In this situation, Louisiana suffered quickly and disproportionately largely because of decisions Edwards made. While he would have needed seer-like qualities to have understood the virus impact in mid-February to order cancellation of Carnival festivities, by its end the shape of things to come was evident.

Instead of immediately placing some restrictions on potential hotpots, launching infrastructure for testing and care of positive patients on a massive scale, and ramping up tracing capacity, Edwards dithered. Failing to take these measured actions earlier, he belatedly overreacted, shutting down quickly massive swaths of the state’s economy indiscriminately. As a result, too many people needlessly became infected early on, creating a bigger epidemiological curve, which then triggered a desperate attempt to flatten it which only has served to delay achieving the necessary solution: the acquisition of “herd immunity.”

Doing this, Edwards seemed to think his course of action immune to an ironclad law of humanity and infiltrating government with a concept contrary to its political culture. That is, denying that people die, and that helicopter governance fits within American political culture.

Keep in mind that almost no one under age 60 and/or with an already-underlying life-threatening condition dies from the virus. In the aggregate, virus death rates look quite similar to the total death rate by age, even for the older. It’s perhaps simplistic to claim that many who do succumb among the older or very health-compromised had their death only marginally hastened by the virus; more accurately, it’s like packing a year’s worth of risk into a week or two, thus policy only should set the conditions to minimize this risk and go no further.

Simply, government, even in its most totalitarian form, cannot indemnify everybody against death. Life contains unavoidable and unmitigable risk, and in a free society dedicated to preserving human dignity government doesn’t interfere with the inherent right of individuals to take reasonable risks, while ensuring that people aren’t forced into taking unreasonable ones.

In the current situation where the care system can handle the virus caseload, for example, this might mean that government could compel merchants to have employees wear masks, or to have pupils and instructors wear them. It doesn’t mean that government can prevent people from pursuing their legal livelihoods by closing businesses or placing such restrictions as effectively keeps them closed, or that everybody must wear a mask in public.

The latter kind of helicopter governance denies that people are free, intelligent, and autonomous beings. In contrast, for example, don’t keep movie theaters closed by government fiat. If their operators think they can earn a livelihood, they can try. If enough of the public wants to take the risk to attend to keep them open, they will. If enough theater employees don’t like the risk and stay home or go to work elsewhere, the theaters don’t open (and consequently the employees could reap overly-generous federal government benefits at least through the end of the month).

If you have a lower risk tolerance and want to go out in public with many not wearing masks, don one and perhaps limit your trips. Ultimately, you don’t depend on government to put a cocoon of safety around you; you are responsible for that.

After all, this isn’t The Andromeda Strain where people drop dead seconds after exposure to a virus that proliferates profligately everywhere. It’s something that if you wear a mask, don’t hang around anybody for 15 minutes two meters away indoors, vet the provenance of what you consume, and scrupulously wash your hands, you’re very unlikely to get. And if you do, if you’re young or middle-aged not health compromised, you’re very unlikely to suffer anything but mild symptoms. Even if older and (unless severely) health-compromised, you’re unlikely to have a severe or death-inducing reaction.

Government reasonably can regulate to protect the most vulnerable and/or who have little autonomy, and also to prevent the overloading of the health care infrastructure. Otherwise, everybody else should be allowed to decide for themselves.

For in the final analysis, herd immunity best beats this disease, and recent research shows we might be on its cusp. Overly restrictive government policy that promotes insufficient risk reduction compared to its degree of assault on human dignity may flatten the curve, but it lengthens it as well and extends the higher level of risk for the vulnerable for a longer period.

Edwards continues to make this mistake by too slowly reopening the state, which shows no signs of having its medical resources overrun. Some chief executives of local governments unwisely have gone even further with restrictions. That needs to change to save and enhance human lives. 

Jeff Sadow can be reached at jeffsadowcolumn-HannaPub@yahoo.com.

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