Free at last, Louisianans are free at last – from a shackling not necessary for at least a year-and-a-half, courtesy of how Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards botched the policy response to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, with huge consequences.
At the State of the State address earlier this week, Edwards announced this week the series of emergency declarations he had issued appertaining to the pandemic finally would expire. It became the 41st state to do so, and not coincidentally all others still with some statewide restrictions Democrats helm as governors.
Which puts Louisiana about 40 states behind where it should have been. The early days of the pandemic two years ago featured a rapidly-spreading virus with little information about it, so understandably taking drastic measures in fearing the worst didn’t seem unreasonable. The theory then was by halting a great deal of interactivity, including most commercial interaction and all schooling, for a few weeks with adequate contact tracing this would isolate transmission enough to cut off spreading.
Yet when contagion continued to advance that should have alerted policy-makers, given the nature of the virus and the interconnectivity of the world today, that this was a pipe dream, something now readily apparent even from the start and being learned by the last of the “zero Covid” holdout countries around the world. Now obvious, once out of the bottle (meaning likely a Chinese lab) it couldn’t be put back in and would become endemic, with only how long it would take to reach that status and the skill at which policy-makers adapted to that reality the only questions worth answering.
In the U.S. a handful states’ governors recognized early the failure of restrictive policy – perhaps more than failure, a contributing factor to aggravating the pandemic by unnecessarily dragging it out to leave the most vulnerable at risk longer and so injuring the social fabric as to make excess deaths climb above and beyond those that might come from the virus – and so thenceforth minimally restricted people’s movements and gathering. One, South Dakota, hardly imposed any curbs at all.
As it turned out, they were right. Even then, in the summer of 2020 as most other states, including Louisiana being among the more restrictive as ordered by Edwards, research had started to debunk most of the presumptively palliative measures employed and this has continued since. Because masks proved poor barriers to transmission and the populace proved unable or unwilling in many cases to follow an exacting strategy in wearing them, face covering mandates were ineffective. Closures ended up producing the same. (In fact, evidence now has emerged that mask wearing actually could increase infection incidence.)
Some governors listened, including all of Louisiana’s immediate neighbors (although Arkansas had few impositions to unwind) who began ditching mandates well over a year ago. Data continued to pile up demonstrating their outcomes were no worse that states that continued to impose these as time passed, and they did better at avoiding the social problems that derived from pandemic policy heavy-handedness. As a point of reference, Louisiana ranks 6th highest in per capita virus deaths and 7th for fatality rate, while states with the least restrictions tended to be on the lower half of these categories. The state that saw next to no restrictions, South Dakota, was about in the middle of each, and the two largest states that had the fewest restrictions, Florida and Texas, ranked a bit higher but still well below Louisiana.
More disturbingly, more restrictions tended to cause more excess deaths than attributable directly to the virus. This is because these impeded access to health care, both physical and mental, and encouraged more despair that led to riskier behaviors. Indeed, comparing Louisiana to South Dakota, the former had substantially more such deaths while South Dakota had fewer when compared to previous years. Unfortunately, these data through early 2021 suggest Edwards’ policies caused more deaths than lives supposedly saved by the restrictions.
Tragically, this information was known before 2020 ended. Had Edwards cared to follow science, perhaps only restrictions in health care setting should have remained because the portion of the population exponentially more vulnerable they housed – not on children in schools who over their lifetime are more likely to die from a lightning strike than from the virus on whom Edwards imposed a mask mandate – and even these likely would have been unnecessary because providers would have imposed these themselves.
Instead, he responded politically and ideologically. Keeping restrictions fomented the idea of crisis and thus invited acquiescence to more intrusive government with power more centralized in the executive. As well, the political left as an article of faith believes overprotective government must remove substantial risk in peoples’ lives, to the detriment of that quality of life and basic human autonomy.
At a number of levels, Edwards as governor has degraded the lives of Louisianans. Regrettably, perhaps the most harm his policies have foisted upon them came from coping with the pandemic.