One year ago, Montana and much of the rest of the world began shutting down to protect citizens from the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic. After a year of mask mandates and six-foot distancing, testing lines and personal protective equipment shortages, we are collectively giving a sigh of relief for rapid vaccine development and the widening availability of vaccinations. Now, as we get our bandages on our arms covering our vaccination sites, we can look back over the last year and assess how our government did its job in serving its citizens.
One of the founding principles of the League of Women Voters is that:
“efficient and economical government requires:
- competent personnel,
- the clear assignment of responsibilities,
- adequate financing, and
- coordination among the different agencies and levels of government.”
Has the federal government’s response to the Corona Virus pandemic met these criteria? We think not.
Competent personnel. Pandemics are public health emergencies. But our federal, some state and even some county governments ignored the advice of public health experts and personnel. Political leaders sidelined science. They minimized or dismissed public health recommendations. They disseminated misinformation. Prior to the pandemic, the federal government actually closed down the pandemic response team of professionals that had been assembled in the previous administration to be ready for such emergencies.
Clear assignment of responsibilities. This pandemic was a national and international crises; it required a coordinated, clear national and international response. Our government rejected the international public health agency (World Health Organization-WHO). Our federal government abdicated its responsibilities and forced states to address the crisis individually, pitting states against each other and forcing states to compete against each other for testing kits, ventilators and precious person protective equipment (PPE).
Adequate financing. The federal stimulus packages have helped many Americans weather the financial storms of this last year. But states and cities scrambled to locate and pay for supplies of personal protective equipment and ventilators while federal stockpiles remained untouched. Medical professionals and hospitals have been strained. Chronic problems with inadequate, underfunded health care exposed minority groups to disproportionate rates of illness and death.
Coordination among agencies and levels of government. The vaccine development and roll-out this year is an example of how our government agencies and the private sector can coordinate and achieve amazing results. Contrast that with the confusing, inadequate and inconsistent Covid testing programs that exposed the absence of coordination among federal, state and local agencies.
The League is disappointed with the federal government’s response to the national crisis, and we are not alone. The New England Journal of Medicine in December 2020 publish an editorial, “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum”. They write: “With no good options to combat a novel pathogen, countries were forced to make hard choices about how to respond. Here in the United States, our leaders have failed the test. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.”
Over 500,000 Americans dead is truly a tragedy. We have the highest death toll of any country in the world.
How did it come to this? There has been an erosion over the past 40 years of belief and trust in government, that the federal government has a role to play in securing the health and welfare of our citizens. Now we have seen what happens when states and individuals are left to fend for themselves. This will likely not be the last pandemic in our lifetimes. Will we count among the lessons learned that there is a legitimate and necessary role for government to play in securing the health and welfare of our citizens?
The League of Women Voters has been registering voters and providing non-partisan voting information for over 100 years. Membership is open to men and women, citizens and non-citizens over the age of 16. For more information about the Missoula League, go to our website: lwvmissoula.org