By Reid K. Beveridge
When is an emergency no longer an emergency?
Good question. But a question not being asked, much less answered, here in Delaware nor in any other state we’ve heard of.
The emergencies we are referencing are the various states of emergency declared by all or almost all governors as a result of the coronavirus. The declarations were understandable back in February and March. We didn’t know much about COVID-19 back then, except that it seemed to be a very serious disease and that a lot of vulnerable people died of it. And, of course, that it came from China.
The great danger, if you will range your memory back to those early days, was overwhelming the health care system. “Flatten the curve,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s epidemiology experts. They had a point. If the spike in serious cases, the kind that require hospitalization and, worse, time in the intensive care unit, got really steep, then the chance of overwhelming those places was real.
We did flatten the curve. Other than a handful of hospitals in New York City, no hospitals were overwhelmed, either in their emergency rooms or their ICUs. The incidence rate of new COVID-19 cases has leveled. On the other hand, more than 180,000 Americans have died.
Too many of them, the majority actually, have been elderly and health-compromised people who got sicker than others. By far the most egregious situation was in New York City, where New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo now aggregates glory for himself for getting the situation under control. What he actually did was order sick, elderly folk with COVID-19 into nursing homes, where the virus spread like wildfire and killed way too many people who didn’t need to die.
When will it all end? Normally, such emergencies last a week or two, perhaps a month, and then quietly expire as the threat fades. Now, we are entering the seventh month of this “emergency.” And an emergency it was back in February and March. But is it an emergency now?
New York Gov. Cuomo thinks it is. He, along with the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut, has banned visitors from more than 30 states from arriving there. That’s a big majority of the United States.
The ongoing effect of all this is disastrous. So far, the economy has contracted dramatically. Some, but far from all, businesses have been allowed to reopen. Those that can’t are likely to be closed forever. Big-city restaurants that rely on cramming as many tables into a small space as possible can’t survive on a system where everyone has to be 6 feet apart.
Bars can’t survive if you can’t stand or sit at the actual bar.
What we are beginning to see is how dictatorial governors can be when they get a chance. The well-worn phrase, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” applies here. Governors have near absolute power when it comes to states of emergency. So do presidents.
What is needed here is for legislatures to intervene and rein in that power. Declarations of emergency are understandable when they last a week or two or a month. But emergencies that last six months with no end in sight become a sort of dictatorship with a democratic veneer.
President Donald Trump gets tarred, from time to time, with the charge that he is dictatorial. However, he is modest when compared with some governors.
Reid K. Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He now resides at Paynter’s Mill.