If only Louisiana’s political culture had been different and Democrat John Bel Edwards not been governor, a significant portion of Louisianans might be alive today who perished in the first almost two years of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
The first point is being made even as I write and you read this. In communist China, its typically servile population has taken to the streets to protest government attempts to impose harsh lockdowns in a futile attempt to bring the zero Covid fantasy to life. Although official government reporting of virus statistics is highly suspect on this issue, a recent wave of infections prompted the reaction, which unlike in the past the populace seems willing to challenge.
At one time, early in the pandemic Louisiana had restrictions almost as virile. Edwards and most state governors issued orders that didn’t entirely stop movement and commercial relations, but did substantially restrict activities in public for what was considered nonessential for a few weeks, justifying this by arguing it would allow public health authorities time to get ahead of the virus to stamp it out.
That dream evaporated quickly, but then a claim that restrictions would ease the burden on health care delivery systems, without any proof, was propagated. More states joined the few whose governors never implemented severe restrictions in shedding theirs, but Edwards did so balkingly and only slowly. Months passed before normal health care or commercial activities resumed, and for some that depended upon large gatherings it was well over a year.
This spawned three very undesirable spinoff effects. First, it obstructed and delayed people’s abilities to access non-virus health care that became life-threatening and for some ended in preventable deaths. Second, it produced significantly more unemployment that negatively impacted mental health. Third, business owners found themselves strapped, if not put out of business, which also if not more severely negatively impacted mental health.
Combined, all of these lead to excess deaths beyond what a typical environment would produce. Rationed health care obviously causes this, but so does deteriorating mental health that leads to riskier personal behavior that ultimately negatively impacts health, if not increases suicidal behavior, resulting in deaths of despair from inability to work or to sustain a living from conditions directly triggered by government policy.
Unfortunately, Louisianans, molded by a political culture that places more emphasis on deference to authority figures than common in America more akin to cultures in the developing world, didn’t put up the kind of resistance to (obviously reduced) restrictions currently witnessed in China. One high-profile brave soul, evangelical pastor Tony Spell, did fight back and won against Edwards orders than discriminated against religion. But the Legislature took its time finally to oppose these legally, then laid down when a highly-questionable court decision ruled adversely to that, and then didn’t have enough gumption to strengthen its oversight powers to reverse.
Still, none of that would have been necessary had Edwards gotten it right in the first place. As the pandemic period increasingly becomes a memory, the more obvious his mistakes have appeared. Data at the country level now clearly show governments that levied fewer restrictions had fewer total excess deaths, which are death totals above historical norms that include not just those who died from the virus but also from deaths of despair and forgone medical interventions. In many cases, those lowest in a proportionate excess deaths change in 2020-21 didn’t have an unusually high number of virus deaths even with them imposing comparatively relaxed restrictions overall in this period.
Worse, particularly for Louisiana, this impact increased the less healthy a state’s population was. A review of state excess death data shows restrictiveness mattered less the healthier a population, which makes sense as a lower proportion of the public would be vulnerable to adverse health incidents. Thus, it’s no accident that the state had the third highest non-virus excess death rate per capita in the country, with the interactive effect of more restrictions and poorer health that produced an excess death ratio virus to non-virus of 3:2.
(That data do require some explanation as to their validity. Months ago, some researchers launched a conspiracy theory that non-virus excess death numbers were partly a result of deliberate underreporting actual virus deaths in order to avoid admitting that areas with more Republican voters had more deaths in order to excuse having had fewer restrictions, alleging the effects existed at the county level. However, this view has two severe problems: first, it’s sheer conjecture with no causal mechanism demonstrated between policy-making in those areas and assigning causes of death – and fails a more basic validity test in that policy almost exclusively was set at the state level to begin with – and, second, the numbers themselves already were corrupted to overreport virus deaths because authorities typically treated people who died with the virus as having died from the virus when in fact a significant portion died from other causes.)
Tragically, the absence of any data showing increased restrictiveness caused fewer excess deaths, if not results showing this actually caused more, were known two years ago. But Edwards’ heart remained hardened and Louisianans needlessly were driven to death by orders he kept in place far too long because of acceptance of an ideology that dictates government must have maximal command and control over people to satisfy the desires of certain elites and special interests. Just as unfortunately, too few of the public and their elected representatives fought back that might have ameliorated his mistake.
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