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Edwards continues botching virus response

I don’t suppose leopards change their spots. And now the Legislature must act.

Having botched the initial response to the coming of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, perhaps it should have been expected that Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards wouldn’t do much better when it came to start handling the back end. Yesterday, Edwards announced the status quo on gubernatorial-ordered restrictions until May 15, with the small exception that elective medical procedures could commence that are time sensitive and that some interactions may increase, such as with outdoor dining and curbside delivery.

Edwards argued that Louisiana’s high per capita infection rate mandated the feet-dragging, which is ironic because Edwards policy decisions in no small measure needlessly aggravated the crisis. By not preparing adequately for a clearly coming threat and then issuing draconian directives indiscriminately applied, he permitted increased chances at infection, decreased opportunity for herd immunity to be acquired in low-risk populations, and now is delaying the ability of the public to get back on its feet economically.

He asserted that little reopening could occur because too many health regions in the state weren’t showing adequate decreases or at least plateauing. But in the data he presented, five of the nine regions were on the decline and one plateauing – and “changes” reported actually were partially an artifact of different classification of data when originally collected.

In essence, he created a Catch-22 condition for justification to keep the clamps down anywhere and everywhere: rates in some areas with the lowest levels of infections were increasing, because they were so low to begin with – which also happen to be areas largely reclassified in testing so that increase could have been an artifact of collection method – and in the areas of higher rates of infection which were declining, these still remained too high. Further, the data were computed as a 14-day rolling average rather than seven, which unnecessarily backloads the older, less relevant data that were showing higher rates of increase.

While he repeatedly said he was following federal guidelines in making this recommendation in reopening the economy, he pointedly ignored the most important one of these: that regional/county-level distinctions could be made. Meanwhile, he stressed that the state needed to improve its detection and tracing capacity; ironically, a perceived deficiency Edwards caused by failing to commit resources in late February to boost testing abilities when the looming threat became obvious as a result of Carnival. In other words, Edwards engaged in a political exercise of convenient cherry-picking of standards to justify the statewide approach of little change in restrictions.

Eventually, a reporter did call Edwards on this one-size-fits-all strategy. He fumbled the answer, saying that if there was one than one hotspot not isolated to a part of the state, then the whole state was endangered. Using that logic, because several states still have hot spots (downstate New York, eastern New Jersey, urban Michigan, Orleans and on up the Mississippi), the whole country couldn’t move forward. There is simply no scientific justification for treating Calcasieu, Lafayette, and Rapides Parishes, with infection rates at less than 0.2 percent, the same as the parishes up the river south of East Baton Rouge with rates collectively over 1 percent.

So, it’s now up to legislators to correct this. Legally, majorities in each chamber could veto the proclamation Edwards said was on the way by the end of the week. He tried to butter them up by essentially saying he wouldn’t contest the chambers from meeting from May 1 on, but in his communications with House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate Pres. Page Cortez, both Republicans, he didn’t indicate that they had committed to backing this extension.

They shouldn’t. Leaders should tell Edwards that they will move to veto that upcoming proclamation, but that they would support an order that set gathering limits at 250 and extends certain bureaucratic adjustments from previous proclamations. That would make it possible for local authorities to impose more stringent standards where needed and not throw the baby out with the bathwater elsewhere.

Through his past actions and statements, Edwards has demonstrated a political worldview that elevates the use of government power and deemphasizes the autonomy of individuals to act in their own best interests without pushing from the heavy hand of government influenced by special interests. That bias infuses his latest decision, not just in creating a worse state fiscal crisis that ultimately the people must bear, but also as presenting an affront to people’s sense of individuality as manifested through their abilities to govern themselves and to achieve for themselves and families through an open society. Collectively, Louisiana is better off by legislators forcing Edwards to do the right thing.

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