SADOW: John Bel Edwards’ Cynical, Hypocritical Virus Surge Policy

If you’re going to promote hypocritical policy, don’t pull your punches, even if it contradicts the observable facts.

That’s the mantra the Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration has employed as Louisiana faces another surge of the Wuhan coronavirus. This challenge appears courtesy of the virus’ delta variant, which is more transmissible, and has taken advantage of the 59 percent of the state’s population not vaccinated.

The population segment being affected disproportionately is healthier, but with record numbers of cases this has led to the same in hospitalizations. This has caused capacity constraints that threaten to move beyond having to delay elective procedures to create space and could begin interfering with treating more critical non-virus-related cases. (But because of the healthier affected population, deaths have not approached record levels.)

Yet capacity constraints exist at lower levels than possible partially because of policies pursued by Edwards’ own political party that controls Washington. These discourage work, including that of medical staff. As a result, providers have resorted to offering fantastically high remuneration to get workers to staff otherwise unused space, and not always successfully. (As someone whose family depends on extensive skilled nursing services, I assure you this has been a feature with such workers starting with the spending bill passed in the waning days of the Republican Pres. Donald Trump Administration and accelerated when Democrats rammed home much more of the same just as the pandemic began to ebb; only now is it getting any publicity.)

And in a more direct way, Edwards’ policies have exacerbated this problem by his insistence on keeping lockdown and face-covering policies in place long after their shelf life. Not only did this discourage vaccination but it also increased the potential for a surge by reducing the incidence of herd immunity; remember that flattening the curve also means to lengthen it.

Regardless that policies Edwards favors have contributed to the space crunch, it’s up to Edwards to respond to the environment that has produced. Which to date has resulted in nothing more than returning to a symbolic indoor mask mandate that will do little to slow transmission and a whole lot of hand-wringing that hypes future doom and gloom unnecessarily instead of pursuing mitigation of the current situation.

Contrast matters a year ago at this time, plus a few months back. With similar dire forecasts abounding during the start of the second quarter and again during commencement of the third, Edwards went whole hog. He instituted the mask mandate on top of an economic lockdown, and additionally created an entire overflow step-down facility at New Orleans’ convention center, which eventually would serve a whopping total of 416 patients at a taxpayer cost of $178 million.

If the current situation is so bad, why doesn’t Edwards reinstitute all of the above? Instead, his administration issues vague threats of that because this surge could last for weeks. In remarks to the Board of Regents, the usually-wrong chief handwringer of the administration on this issue Dr. Joe Kanter blurted “I can’t say when we’re going to peak. There’s just no good, no confidence-inspiring modeling to look at. I will say, God forbid if we don’t peak within a week or two. It’s just simply going to be a catastrophic situation for hospitals.”

Except the sentiment expressed there runs against the recent data and history of the virus and what others are saying. Former Food and Drug Administration chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb, echoing what a number of scientists have said across the globe that delta variant-driven surges pass intensely but quickly in part because of the greater transmissibility and because vaccinations and prior infections cordon off large segments of the population, said the data he saw indicated that Louisiana would see the same, and in fact was on the cusp of a downward leg. “The rate of expansion, the epidemic is clearly slowing in states like … Louisiana,” he observed.

Indeed, the state’s own data confirm that. There is a few days lag in reporting, but in the days prior to Aug. 11 a marked slowdown has occurred, with a peak on Aug. 2 (inflated, as all Mondays are because some providers don’t report during the weekend) with a falloff of 35 percent a week later. Hospitalizations will follow shortly.

In other words, about the time Edwards reimposed the mostly-ineffective mask mandate, already the subsidence had started. Yet right thereafter has come the claims from his administration that this could persist for weeks and therefore the sky is falling.

To understand this presentation of panic, we must understand the politics of the situation, because that has driven the Edwards Administration response throughout, rather than a realistic assessment of the science and its implications. Simply, Democrat Pres. Joe Biden’s approval ratings overall, but specifically in his pandemic response, continue to slip. Despite a narrative pushed by that administration that its more often Republican voters less likely to become vaccinated driving the surge, in reality it’s core constituencies of Democrats that disproportionately have not been vaccinated.

In Louisiana, white and black vaccinated proportions of the population are about the same, but the state is especially embarrassing to national Democrats because a Democrat governor has full control over its pandemic policy. To offset this, Edwards must provide symbolism that he is doing something about this.

But it doesn’t have to be anything effective, just showy. Thus, the mask mandate and apocalyptic rhetoric, which can have an actual policy impact: it scares people into getting vaccinated. However, at the same time it is hypocritical to wail and moan about the situation while doing next-to-nothing to try to ameliorate it, such as reimposition of a lockdown and reopening step-down centers – especially as these are the kinds of things that needed to happen last week since by all indications the surge will pass soon.

In the final analysis, this reveals the ultimate cynicism of Edwards’ approach: his administration likely knows any surge will pass quickly but will reflect badly for a short period, so to minimize political fallout both for Edwards and Biden it adopts symbolic policy and hypes the draconian scenario to make both Democrats look better on the flipside when things calm down. When the end of the month rolls around, prepare to hear how Edwards acted decisively and saved the state when in fact he did nothing of substance and the only possible contribution his policy will have had in reducing the surge will have been to frighten some people into receiving vaccination.

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