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May 6, 2020

Republican Governors Get High Marks for Handling Pandemic

An analysis of state responses gives some governors an “A” and others an “F.”

A recent analysis of state responses to the China Virus pandemic offers an insightful look at what has gone right, what has gone wrong, and the brilliance of the Founders’ creation of a federalist system of government.

The report from the Committee to Unleash Prosperity reviewed the severity and duration of state lockdowns, stay-at-home requirements, enforcement penalties, and treatment of hospitals, schools, factories, and stores. The committee factored in the severity of the outbreak in each state, categorizing them into high, medium, and low risk, so that Montana, for example, is not graded on the same basis as New York.

Of the nine governors receiving “A” grades, eight are Republicans — Ron DeSantis (FL), Brian Kemp (GA), Kim Reyonalds (IA), Pete Ricketts (NE), Kevin Stitt (OK), Kristi Noem (SD), Bill Lee (TN), and Mark Gordon (WY). Colorado’s Jared Polis was the lone Democrat. Of the four receiving “F” grades — Phil Murphy (NJ), Tom Wolf (PA), Ralph Northam (VA), and Tony Evers (WI) — all are Democrats.

This may seem counterintuitive to many, considering the relentless criticism unleashed on Kemp, DeSantis, and Noem in particular. But these governors, bucking the media narrative, have focused not only on the health impact of the virus, but of the economic impact of the shutdown as well.

For every day hospitals are essentially closed to all but COVID-19 and emergency patients, it delays a cancer diagnosis, or treatments for diabetes and hypertension, each of which could result in an unnecessary death.

And for every day the forced shutdowns continue, more people lose their jobs and life savings, which not only has a devastating economic impact but human repercussions as well. Studies show that for every 1% increase in the unemployment rate, there is an 0.8% increase in the suicide rate. With the unemployment rate projected to be between 16%-20% for April, that means a projected 12% more suicides, resulting in thousands of needless deaths.

Democrats and the media have relentlessly criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic (except when forced to admit Trump has done a good job), but in reality most criticism has less to do with Trump’s supposed failures than the inevitable incompetence and sluggishness of a massive federal bureaucracy.

President Trump was excoriated for the slow ramp-up of testing, as well as for shortages of masks and ventilators. Yet it was a decades-old, Byzantine maze of bureaucratic regulations that prevented rapid deployment of tests and medical supplies. The CDC banned development of alternate tests, and the FDA prevented companies from rapidly converting production to masks and respirators until President Trump intervened.

But where the federal government stumbled, states took the initiative.

In the case of many Republican governors, restrictions on businesses remaining open and directives to shelter at home were made as minimally burdensome as possible. Georgia Gov. Kemp and his public health advisers delayed shutting down the state as long as possible while still protecting the ability to treat the infected, reopening as quickly as possible once it was safe to do so.

By contrast Democrat-run New York, California, and Michigan instituted draconian lockdown measures, threatening citizens with fines and imprisonment for violating stay-at-home orders or being in public without face masks, threatening to permanently shut down churches and synagogues, and encouraging citizens to snitch on their neighbors, like something out of Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany.

Meanwhile, despite states like Georgia and Texas having a fraction of the Wuhan virus cases as New York (which has over half the cases in the U.S.), the media continues to criticize Republican governors and praise the civil-rights violations of Democrat governors.

This global pandemic is an unprecedented situation in American history, and we should all show a little grace and acknowledge that neither the state governments nor the federal government were prepared for a widespread virus and the forced shutdown of the U.S. economy.

At the same time, watching the responses of the various governors has been enlightening. South Dakota’s Kristi Noem decided to treat her citizens like adults, giving them accurate information about the virus and letting them take responsibility for their own actions (with the added benefit of not repeatedly violating constitutional rights). The result has been life as relatively normal, with isolated flare-ups of the virus.

What the Republican governors seem to understand (and Democrats do not) is that COVID-related public health is only one facet of the crisis. There are severe, long-term consequences to extending the lockdowns, and for insufficient reward. Remember, the shutdowns were never about reducing the number of infections; they were about spacing out the infections to prevent overloading the healthcare system. We’ve done that, and continuing to shut down the economy gains us nothing.

In the coming months, we suspect we will see Republican-led states begin to recover much faster than Democrat-run states, both in managing the virus and restarting their economies.

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