It’s a classic from liberalism’s playbook: create a problem through its policy failures, then propose a harmful, drastic solution to address that. Whether consciously, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has come full circle in this way with his recent closing of the barn door two months after the horse escaped.
In this instance, the barn door was pursuing a timely test and trace strategy that would have kept blockaded a more pernicious spread of the Wuhan coronavirus – the horse. Edwards now predicates lifting or not extending further restrictions he began putting into place in the middle of March on the state’s ability to accomplish this. Despite no real evidence that certain regions of the state had experienced increased numbers of or rates of infections, last week Edwards used that excuse and what he regarded as insufficient testing capacity to continue restrictions indiscriminately across Louisiana through the middle of May.
Recently, he has said testing and tracing capacity should ramp up to make for greater ability in identifying individuals in contact with those infected and administering tests to them as well. But his newfound enthusiasm for this course seemed absent in late February, even though he had warnings and models to follow.
When Louisiana exited the Carnival season, indicators elsewhere flashed that the state was at exceptional risk. One came from Washington which had a suspected case over a month earlier and by then had hundreds of suspected cases that later would receive confirmation.
But at the first whiff of impending pandemic, that state government (also with a Democrat chief executive) began an intensive test and trace strategy. It had to abandon the effort in early March – about the same time Louisiana had its first confirmed case – due to cases piling up, and only recently could resume it.
However, that attention at the front end paid off. Despite being the guinea pig when the first case in the country popped up there, Washington’s government focus on increasing state laboratory testing capacity (and private hospital buy-in in anticipation that the federal government would devolve testing confirmation) and aggressive tracing early on stifled much of the early momentum the virus picked up. By way of contrast, on its 11th day after the first case identification (which in its case really was more like its 51st day, but records were kept only starting in late February) Washington had just 9 cases but Louisiana had 347. After one month, Washington (which has 60 percent more people than Louisiana) had 1,376 while Louisiana racked up 16,284. As of Monday, Louisiana had just shy of 30,000 cases while Washington had just over half of that amount.
Facing the same preliminary situation, Edwards had other fish to fry. Instead of ordering the state lab and encouraging state partner hospitals (through which billions of state dollars pass through annually) to boost their testing capacities (as well as private labs in general, which he addressed only on Mar. 19) and setting the stage for maximal tracing ability (such as by mobilizing the National Guard, as some states did early on, for this purpose), he fretted about the myth of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming by establishing a task force on that, ten days before he thought to create a similar group to address the incipient pandemic.
When the state’s first case materialized. Edwards announced it was ready to go with testing and tracing. Hardly. Six weeks later, state officials were bemoaning the fact that little of that could happen, despite the state being one of the per capita leaders in testing (today ranking fifth), because the Department of Health had only ten percent of the 700 tracers estimated needed. Had Edwards shown the leadership to prepare properly for a large upswing in testing and tracing, the curve never would have inflated to the point that it has.
Because he failed in this regard, the solution he says is for all the state’s residents to suffer more job losses and earnings than necessary. And the amount of this increased hardship depends upon his exact ineptitude in implementing a test and trace strategy early on. Holding the state hostage due to his own mistakes neither is fair nor unexpected.