8 ways big government botched the COVID pandemic recovery

Hannah Cox, FEE

According to a new Axios-Ipsos poll, more than 60 percent of Americans believe the federal government’s response to the pandemic isn’t helping. In fact, they say it’s making things worse.

“Sixty-two percent believe the government is making America’s recovery worse, including more than one in three (35%) who say the government is making things much worse,” the poll found. “When asked whether the federal government has gotten better or worse at handling the pandemic, compared to March or April, a plurality (46%) say worse.”

It’s hard to blame them for their pessimism. A review of the actions taken by federal, state, and local lawmakers over the past year illuminates a series of missteps that led to a higher death toll and resulted in unintended consequences that continue to plague our society.

Here is a review of the government’s eight biggest failures during the COVID-19 crisis.

Given that preventing the spread of a new disease is a virtually impossible task, it had to be accepted that some people were going to become ill. Mitigation was the only immediate solution and that required clear, direct communication and information.

This is not what the American people got.

Instead, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) did not recommend wearing masks at first, advice that was backed up by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview on 60 Minutes.

Fauci and CDC officials later said the guidelines were intended to prevent hoarding of supplies, and then insisted that masks should be used to mitigate the spread of the virus.

That wasn’t the only confusion. In the early days, Americans were hard pressed to obtain testing or ascertain information on symptoms and treatment protocols. At one point, President Trump indicated that using “disinfectants” or beaming ultraviolet rays of light at the body might be a cure. His comments were followed by a surge in accidental poisonings. It was pure mayhem.

Americans were also assured only 14 days were needed to “flatten the curve,” and those who could readily stayed home to give the medical community time to prepare for the oncoming wave of patients. But 14 days quickly turned to indefinite lockdowns—leaving many of our citizens without employment and unable to pay bills or purchase basic necessities.

It must be noted that our medical community would have been more prepared if the government hadn’t suppressed information on the virus in the first place. We now know national leaders were briefed on the pandemic as early as January. That means the country had two months to prepare overflow hospitals, ramp up production of protective wear and ventilators, and coordinate and develop testing methods. Instead, they spent those months downplaying the disease, which prevented industries from obtaining valuable market signals that would have spurred them into action.

This lack of transparency is one reason COVID became politicized early on, leading to distrust and a lack of cooperation among the states and our people.

New York City, the original epicenter of the country’s outbreak, was losing nearly 800 citizens to COVID a day in March and April. People could not get hospital beds, many were sent to die without care in hotels, and bodies were placed in refrigerated trucks as people died too rapidly to be properly disposed of.

In response, the city spent $52 million on overflow hospitals….that ultimately saw only 79 patients. Yes, really.

One reason? The city granted ambulance providers exclusive contracts with public hospitals (cronyism!), so when a person called 911 the providers had to take them to their contracted facility—even if it was overrun and there were open beds elsewhere.

As a result, doctors and nurses (some paid up to $2,000 per day) were left playing on their phones at overflow spaces while people died in public hospitals across the street.

Not only did the government fail to communicate a coming need for testing in January, it actively worked to block the development and processing of tests by private facilities.

Agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services enacted regulatory roadblocks that prevented non-government labs from assisting with testing, even as the CDC took weeks to release its own flawed test.

To participate in testing, a commercial or clinical lab had to complete a lengthy and arduous application process with the Food and Drug Administration to obtain “emergency use authorization.” Few did.

And so, the government squandered precious time where widespread testing and targeted resources could have limited the disease’s spread.

Just two days after Chinese scientists published the coronavirus’ genetic code, Moderna developed a vaccine against it—astonishingly completing its development over a single weekend.

That means we’ve had a vaccine for this thing since January of 2020, but Americans were blocked from accessing it.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibited accelerated challenge trials of the product (where volunteers who take the vaccine are exposed to it in a lab rather than waiting to see if they encounter it in the wild). This resulted in almost a full year delay and hundreds of thousands of deaths while we waited for approval.

The vaccine is now available and the FDA has called it “highly effective.”

The US is still blocking the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that is already being successfully used in other countries.

An abundance of research shows lockdowns do not prevent deaths.

Social distancing and the ventilation of public spaces were appropriate measures to combat the spread of the disease (on top of testing and targeting resources for high-risk populations), and businesses would have implemented reasonable measures with proper communication. (Indeed, data show Americans were taking precautions well before their governors told them to.)

But in many states, public officials went forward with aggressive and unconstitutional measures that forced the economy to close, pushed kids out of school, separated families, and even prevented people from taking walks or playing outside. As predicted, the ramifications have been far worse than the disease.

Evidence suggests the suicide rate has spiked, coinciding with a loneliness epidemic that is sure to produce many more deaths of despair. Domestic violence has increased, as have the number of homes reporting food instability. American students, who already lagged in testing scores compared to other developed nations, are losing irreplaceable ground in their educational pursuits. And the economic downturn the lockdowns created is furthering income inequality and poverty (in both the US and globally).

The consequences of the lockdowns are only beginning to be seen and are certain to have an ongoing impact on our daily lives and our economy.

New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, has been heralded by the media as the hero of the pandemic and even received an Emmy and a lucrative book deal for his performance as a politician who cared about his people.

While Governor Cuomo is admittedly smooth on camera, time has revealed he is an atrocious leader whose policies got people killed in more ways than one.

At the height of the pandemic, Cuomo’s administration forced nursing homes to accept sick patients— a response likely influenced by their overflowing public hospitals. As industry experts warned, nursing homes did not have the capacity to both house these patients and prevent the spread of the disease in their facilities, leading to an outbreak among vulnerable populations that killed seniors in droves.

To make matters worse, Cuomo’s office then worked to suppress the true number of nursing home deaths, and advocated legislation that prevents victims of its policies from suing facilities over the deaths of their loved ones.

Senator Rand Paul has been one of the few voices of reason in leadership throughout this ordeal. A doctor himself, Paul began pushing back against the nonsensical lockdowns and school closures as early as last summer—pointing to research that showed it was safe to open.

In a televised hearing, Dr. Fauci famously sparred with Senator Paul over this issue, which led to attacks against Paul from prominent voices on the left. But a mere six months later Fauci was singing Paul’s tune, and claiming to have always been in the choir.

It was too little too late. Teachers’ unions have seized control in many states and blocked re-opening, and many families have been left with a hodge-podge of educational options and no ability to take their tax dollars elsewhere.

In contrast, private schools have notably stayed open for the most part.

In the summer of 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, a $2 trillion corporate welfare behemoth that lawmakers claimed would stimulate our economy, provide basic needs for people pushed out of work, and save small businesses. But it failed and mostly went to cronyism and special interests.

Ultimately, 25 percent went to big businesses—who were less impacted by lockdowns. Only $350 billion was even earmarked for small businesses, and $243 million of that “accidentally” went to corporations too.

Furthermore, a study of the Paycheck Protection Program under the bill found it preserved 2.3 million jobs, at a cost of $224,000 per job! On the other hand it incentivized many to stay home from work—making it even more difficult for businesses to reopen.

And then there was the fraud. The federal government sent $1.4 billion in checks to dead people under this legislation. And the Foundation for Government Accountability estimates $26 billion was spent on fraudulent claims—an amount equal to the total amount of unemployment benefits paid in 2019.

While the country now has three vaccines (the FDA green lighted Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine Wednesday), with more on the horizon, distributing them to the public has been a debacle.

Federal agencies gave hospitals syringes incapable of extracting the proper dosage, leading to many vaccines being thrown away. Others dumped vaccines because of strict state regulations on who could be vaccinated. When they were unable to find enough people that met the criteria they were forced to discard unused doses.

Yet again, we see government bureaucracy and regulations fail the people they are designed to protect.

There is a reason proponents of a limited government continue to ring the alarm on the expansion of authority. We know that the government harms people, even when it’s carried out with good intentions or by leaders whom we “like.” And the past year has certainly highlighted that.

It can be assumed that most in politics desired to prevent death and despair in the country over the past year, but arrogance in their own abilities and blind faith in central planning made the pandemic even worse than it otherwise would have been.

It’s important to remember that the same regulations and policies that created mass devastation over the past year also create smaller scale devastation on a daily basis – making healthcare more expensive and putting life-saving treatments out of reach.

By now, we should have learned that the government cannot protect us from the harsh realities of life, nor will it do a good job of providing for our needs or looking out for our best interests.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

It’s a pertinent quote for the moment as that is precisely what most have chosen to do over the past year—and it was all for nought. The government, no matter how big it gets, does not have the ability to protect us from the world’s numerous threats. It can at best guard our liberties and give us the freedom we need to innovate and shield ourselves.

Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

The idea that people are best served and protected when decisions are independent and localized is a concept many struggle to grasp.

“To the naive mind that can conceive of order only as the product of deliberate arrangement, it may seem absurd that in complex conditions order, and adaptation to the unknown, can be achieved more effectively by decentralizing decisions and that a division of authority will actually extend the possibility of overall order, the economist F.A. Hayek observed. “Yet that decentralization actually leads to more information being taken into account.”

Yet Hayek’s vision was borne out during the pandemic’s response. As yet another example, take West Virginia, one of the poorest and most rural states in the country. They were expected to struggle with their vaccine distribution but instead lead the nation. Why? They decentralized the vaccination process—they let local, independent pharmacies handle distribution, and they crushed it.

America has tried the big government route, it didn’t go so well. Moving forward, we should learn from this catastrophe and push for deregulation, limited government authority, and local control.

Judging from the new Axios-Ipsos poll, Americans may finally be prepared to do just that.

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