As politics currently may drive Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision-making regarding the state response to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, so may political reality eventually force him to make these decisions based more upon science.
Monday, Edwards said he would refuse to let expire as planned this upcoming Friday proclamations that continue to restrict citizen liberties and commercial activity. He claimed that a “surge” of cases and especially hospitalizations since Jun. 8 triggered this move.
The data make this assertion questionable. On Jun. 8, the state had racked up 43,050 cases from 442,602 tests or an infection rate of 9.73 percent, with 582 people hospitalized. As of yesterday, cases stood at 49,778 from 610,812 tests or 8.15 percent infected, with 589 hospitalized. Federal guidelines to move into the next phase, which would expand commercial activity without restrictions for many businesses and discourage higher-risk people from more than minimal interactions with others but otherwise hardly restrict others, called for decreasing proportions of positive tests over the prior two weeks.
Louisiana would seem to have qualified to move on according to this data. However, today’s data – 50,239 cases from 618,064 tests (8.13 percent infected) with 630 hospitalizations – added to a mini-trend over the past few days that showed a creep up in number of new cases per day and in aggregate hospitalizations (although the proportion of newly infected daily has continued to drift downwards).
At most, an abundance of caution might suggest renewing the proclamations for another week, and/or regionally. Instead, Edwards did it for 28 days applied statewide.
That’s inexplicable by the science, but not by politics. It permits Edwards to continue having greater control over the economy, even as that control continues to starve it. It allows people to stay on the unemployment dole longer with fewer jobs available, which also means draining more from the state’s kitty for these claims that will produce a day of reckoning in fiscal year 2022. It means fewer state tax revenues from business activity, which will throw out of balance the FY 2021 budget as well as weaken state efforts to address underfunded pensions and gives him political fodder to fight legislative attempts in the current legislative special session to provide business tax relief that could become permanent in the future. It forces higher-than-needed Medicaid expenditures. Together, these create more momentum for tax increases justified as a short-term measure, but planned by him and his liberal allies to become a permanent fixture to keep state government larger than necessary.
Fortunately, political reality will hem in further execution of this gambit. Principally, the $600 weekly bonus unemployment paid for in full by the federal government lapses a week after the extension. With the typical recipient’s income slashed 73 percent from over $42,000 annualized, public demand for jobs will encourage him to bring a decision to move forward more in line with what the science at that time likely will show.
Until then – and with a Legislature finally going out of session that has had him play defense to protect his leftist agenda that won’t have a chance to override his extension – Edwards’ choice only inflicts more economic pain and impedes the acquisition of herd immunity that ultimately will make conditions safer for everybody sooner.