Local doctors, gov’t lead while federal gov’t flounders

Local governments across Hays County deserve mostly high marks for acting with maturity and dedication over the past two weeks to do what is within their power to minimize the destruction of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Without these tough-minded measures, by some models the virus could spread to as many as 75% of people – or about 187,00 Hays County residents alone – by mid-summer. A large number of those will be mild cases or they will be asymptomatic, but as many as 3,000 to 4,000 could result in death.

While that’s worst-case scenario modeling, it’s serious work by health officials, and even lesser models are horrific. Thus the interventions by local officials. 

The good works locally are easy to find:

• Kyle’s dramatic but carefully calibrated action at a specially-called meeting – to order many local businesses, including day cares, to close. It was done in close consultation with local medical experts, and with the city careful to be transparent by including the press in quickly arranged tele-meeting. The City’s emerging status as a regional medical center has served it well.

  Hays County has acted decisively on public meetings and business closings.

• All the school districts have worked hard to balance the needs of kids, parents, nutrition, safety, and healthcare.

• Buda, San Marcos, and Dripping Springs have stepped up with aggressive measures, even if some places, such as tourist centers in Wimberley, were initially reluctant to lose business.

• Of course Austin has been a national leader in taking the virus serious, cancelling SXSW and shutting down bars and restaurants early.

The state of Texas, after hesitating early – and losing some valuable time – has shown leadership in educating citizens, marshaling resources and taking action, including allowing for the postponement of local May elections and pushing back runoffs for the party primaries from May to July. Gov. Greg Abbott deserves a round of applause.

All of us owe a thank you for these efforts, and especially thanks to the heroic efforts of local workers who are keeping open supply chains, food stores, hospitals, pharmacies, doctor offices – and other pillars of the economy.

We’re all in this one together.

Unfortunately, and there is no use shying away from this: coming out the other side of this is will be harder because of what may be the single most blatant failure of preparedness by our federal government in the history of the nation. (To debate what ranks first takes a student of history willing to argue the intricacies of the Harding Administration scandals or the epic failures of the Buchanon presidency leading up to the Civil War.)

As we push forward we must get to the root of these mistakes – to learn from them, correct them and ensure that they are not ongoing.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic started on the other side of the world, we had months of warning that other nations did not have. Instead of making good use of the time, the administration downplayed the pandemic, even while some allies, we now know, were selling off stock.

Instead of ramping up production of medical equipment and virus-testing kits during the quiet time before the virus hit us, our federal government continued to actively downplay the threat for political reasons – and the president himself specifically lied about both the number of the cases and the potential for spread, saying the number would soon be down to zero, when every scientific report both within and outside his administration said otherwise. The scientific team that should have been in charge of the effort inside the White House had been disbanded a couple of years before, leaving the president’s son-in-law, among others, in charge.

Only when the depth of the crisis became impossible to explain away, only when the misinformation became evident to Wall Street and the stock market crashed, did the president’s team begin to take this seriously. Even then, the response was inept and confused. While a better team is now seemingly in place, and respected scientific leaders have been brought to the forefront, briefings are still confused, lines of authority blurred, and it is not clear that the full power of the federal government has been brought to bear on the problem.

In World War II, the United States amazed the world by turning its scientific ingenuity and industrial might to the task of churning out munitions, bombers and ships at a rate Hitler thought impossible. Yet here we are today – infinitely more powerful than we were then – but we have not produced even a fraction of the virus test kits per person that places like China or Hong Kong or South Korea were able to produce, though we had more advanced warning, and had their prototypes and the World Health Organization models to go by. 

Just two weeks ago the president told us this virus was a hoax, made up by the media and his enemies, not to listen, nobody would really get sick. This last week he was telling us it’s a big deal, all business should shut down, but it’s not his fault.

Tens of thousands, perhaps millions of lives are stake. Trillions – yes – trillions of dollars will be lost in the recession and the bailout. (At least the bailout is a step by the Administration and the Congress in the right direction.)

An ounce of prevention, a little real leadership, and few hundred million could have gone a long, long way a month ago, back before we were all on lock-down, back before testing was too late, back before all that was left to stop the virus were remedies of last resort.

What we can’t afford now are the same mistakes of dawdling  and posturing and nepotism as we fight the virus.

It’s too late to get tests early and isolate individuals instead of whole communities. Now we need tools to fight. We need medicines, vaccine trials, protective gear for doctors and nurses to go into battle.

We need them at any cost, and we need them now. This shortage was utterly predictable. In fact, it was predicted. It was just ignored by the administration. Excuses are unacceptable from here on out, for any reason.

We can all agree to disagree on whether America needed to be made great again four years ago. But maybe we can all agree that a nation that can’t even equip its doctors like a Third World Country needs to be made great again today. Let’s get at it, Mr. President. Let’s get at it.

We’re all with you – if you’ll lead.

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