Many people are giving Gov. Mark Gordon advice about what he needs to do in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, some of the wisest words seem to be unwelcome.
Gordon and seven other Republican governors are the final holdouts against issuing statewide “shelter-in-place” orders to slow the spread of COVID-19. More than 90% of the U.S. population is already living under these regulations.
The governor’s frustration with the criticism he’s received boiled over Friday afternoon at the start of a press conference. He first announced he was not issuing such an order but rather extending one that has closed many mainstays of life in Wyoming, including K-12 schools, bars, restaurants, childcare facilities, theaters, gyms, universities, colleges, trade schools, hair salons and barbershops.
He then recited the mantra he shares with healthcare professionals, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Stay at home, wash your hands, and keep at least six feet away from others. Gordon then complained that, instead of highlighting how his guidance echoes that of medical professionals, the media has emphasized that he hasn’t issued a shelter-in-place order despite the urging of the Wyoming Medical Society and some county health officials.
“It makes for a good headline, I suppose,” the governor said, then contended that he and physicians agree about the issue.
“[They] want you to stay at home and I am telling you to stay at home. What are you waiting for?” he shouted. “Are you waiting for ‘mother may I?’ Or are you taking care of yourself and practicing the common sense that we expect?”
Petulance has no place in the middle of a pandemic, and Gordon later apologized for his outburst. But his words reveal a fundamental disconnect.
I don’t think he understands that there’s a vast difference between encouraging people and businesses to do the right things to keep the virus from spreading, and his responsibility to protect the public by mandating that it happens. Leaving it voluntary isn’t cutting it, in Wyoming or anywhere else.
States like Ohio, California and Washington, which aggressively attacked the novel coronavirus outbreak through shelter-in-place orders that took people off the streets early, have seen the growth trajectory of both the number of cases and deaths significantly flattened.
Dr. David Wheeler, president of the Wyoming Medical Society, sent a letter to Gordon calling for a shutdown to avoid “the horrific effects” of the spread of the disease.
“If we don’t act now, it’s certain that we’ll use up available supplies in weeks,” the Casper neurologist said at Gordon’s March 30 coronavirus press conference. “We hope that we don’t wait until the ERs are full of gasping people because by then it’s too late… We won’t avoid catastrophe if we don’t get ahead of it.”
Gordon is understandably frustrated. On one hand, he’s being attacked by people who think he’s doing too much and unnecessarily hurting the state’s economy, and on the other, by those who think he’s doing too little and threatening the public’s health.
University of Washington researcher Christopher Murray released on March 31 a statistical model that predicts Wyoming will see a total of 143 coronavirus-related deaths by Aug. 4. That forecast came with an important caveat: The figure would be that low only if Wyoming soon takes strict social-distancing efforts, including enforceable orders.
Meanwhile, about 54% of state residents in a poll conducted by the University of Wyoming Survey Analysis Center said they would support a statewide shelter-in-place order. That response is in line with the online comments during the live YouTube/Wyoming PBS broadcast of Friday’s news conference, where people seemed about evenly divided about Gordon’s refusal to issue an order.
Not surprisingly, some conservative politicians are applying pressure on the governor to allow businesses to reopen. Their reasoning mimics President Donald Trump’s absurd line about how “the cure can’t be worse than the disease.”
“I don’t want anybody to lose their life, but we have to recognize reality for what it is,” Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette) told the Casper Star-Tribune. “I mean, people are going to get this doesn’t mean we have to shut everything down in the economy and then create more damage.”
Over time an economy can regain its health, but dead people are dead forever.
In an email to the newspaper, Wheeler wrote that Clem apparently doesn’t understand how beneficial early and tight lockdowns in China, South Korea and Singapore have proven. The doctor emphasized his point with a stinging rejoinder: “I don’t agree that we can salvage the economy on top of corpses.”
One of the factors in this controversy that seems to upset Gordon most is that loads of requests are coming his way from people who want their businesses exempt from any order he might put in place. Preventative strikes have already been launched by the state’s minerals industry and the Society of Professional Journalists, among others.
Gordon is a loyal Trump supporter, so I doubt he begrudges the president’s downhill buck-passing to governors like him. But he should be. This a national crisis and it calls for a unified national response.
The failure of Trump to take decisive federal action early downgraded the fight against COVID-19 to a crazy quilt of poorly stitched-together responses. The states and the feds are currently competing against themselves to buy precious medical resources. The result is unnecessary, and likely deadly, equipment and supply shortages.
I guess an all-powerful executive branch is constitutionally critical when it comes to obstructing justice and neutering checks and balances. Too bad the president doesn’t see its utility in combating a life-and-death crisis.
Trump’s maddening response to the pandemic reached a new low on Saturday, when he told Americans to be prepared for “a lot of death” this week but added moments later, “We have to get back to work. We have to open our country again.”
The president’s confusing message is par for the course; he can stick to a script that has him pretending to follow the best medical advice available for only so long before revealing his customary disdain for science.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost expert on infectious diseases, shares the podium with Trump nearly every day to help explain how the battle against COVID-19 is going. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that his advice is routinely ignored.
During a CNN town hall last week, Fauci was asked why there is no federal shelter-in-place order. The doctor was as mystified as many Americans. “If you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that,” he said. “We really should be.”
On MSNBC Saturday, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) criticized Trump for continually undermining healthcare officials’ recommendations.
“He didn’t want to have stay-at-home orders, he wanted to pit parts of the country against other parts of the country,” she charged. “He wanted to create conspiracy theories about some states hoarding [personal protection equipment]. It’s absurd what he’s done, and unfortunately there are acolytes of this president who are governors today who just do what he does.”
Asked by CNN last week what message he has for those Republican governors, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-California) — who issued the nation’s first shelter-in-place order — offered the same question that Gordon posed to Wyoming’s media and the public: “What are you waiting for?”
“What more evidence do you need?” Newsom said. “Take responsibility and meet [COVID-19] head-on. You will never regret overcompensating.”
I hope Gordon heeds that advice.