Applying political power directly didn’t work. But the soft power of an informed public has succeeded to date where other efforts failed to produce reasonable and helpful public health emergency policy around Louisiana.
The Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, fueled by a new variant, has ticked upwards across the globe after a few months of simmering. In Louisiana, daily cases have reached their highest levels in six months and hospitalizations and deaths the highest in four months.
But governments from the local level all the way up to Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards have not proclaimed the reinstallation of a plethora of mandatory nonpharmaceutical interventions that existed during the previous spike. Undoubtedly, some they wish they could, for it would help their political agendas by empowering government (Edwards and almost all of the state’s largest city mayors are Democrats) while giving the appearance that they are doing something positive about the situation.
Last week – even after winning a political victory by having no vetoes overridden by the Legislature, including on one bill that would have curtailed his emergency powers – Edwards asked but did not order wearing of masks indoors. The same applied for Democrats LaToya Cantrell and Adrian Perkins, mayors respectively of New Orleans and Shreveport. And the Caddo Parish Commission appeared all hepped up to impose a mask mandate, only to have Republican commissioners and the only white Democrat on the body want to water it down if not defeat it, causing the measure’s postponement after intense citizen criticism descended.
Things have changed from over 16 months ago, when the economic and social lockdowns began, or from even a year ago when face covering mandates popped up. In this time span, both researchers and policy-makers have learned much about the efficacy of various approaches, and increasingly have had to come to grips with the failed social and economic experimentation that typified the approach taken in places with Democrats in charge of this policy.
There’s still no convincing evidence that the lockdowns saved lives, but lots of evidence that they have already cost lives and will prove deadlier in the long run than the virus itself. As for mask mandates, evidence gathered over the past year indicates these don’t do much to ameliorate spread of a virus not much deadlier than seasonal influenza, regardless of variant.
Worse, this mandate when applied to children likely becomes harmful over the long run. Combined with lockdown policies, these appear to cause delayed social development and increased mental health issues, conditions that with a loss of education quality will produce in the aggregate a poorer quality of life for these children going forward, lasting the rest of their lives. Fortunately, the state’s Department of Education also hasn’t foisted much a mandate on local districts, and at present no district has yet done so.
Politicians otherwise raring to go with a return to restrictions have held back because not only do they know of these data, but also and especially because they know enough of the public knows about these as well. They know we know that jurisdictions that had a policy of nothing restrictive beyond measures protecting the most vulnerable that left it up to individuals to take voluntarily any other actions produced at least as good health indicators and unquestionably superior economic ones – a policy Edwards ignored that likely caused more deaths and certainly more economic devastation.
Edwards wants to protect his rapidly-fading power and that of the political left in the state. Cantrell wants reelection this year and Perkins the next. A core of Caddo commissioners is listening to their constituents. On this issue, and for now at least, by prompting them to hold back the republican system of governance is working in Louisiana.