Leadership Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic

On May 23, I posted an article, Who Should Be in Charge of the COVID-19 Response?  It concluded with, “The president, governors, county executives, and mayors clearly need to listen to the experts, both inside and outside of government but ultimately, the decisions will be made by elected officials.” 

As a follow-up, I will periodically provide my assessments of the pandemic responses of various political leaders. These assessments are mine and mine alone, based on 25 years of work in the field of pandemic preparedness and response, and have nothing to do with partisan politics, the upcoming election, or issues not associated with the pandemic response.

On June 28, Vice President Pence implored Americans to wear face masks. 

Assessment:  It’s about damn time!  Political leaders at all levels, and for that fact, media celebrities (yes, Laura Ingram I am talking about you) should be encouraging the use of masks, social distancing and hand washing. Every person in this country can play an important role in controlling this pandemic and getting America back to work. 

On June 26, Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated, “If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars.” In addition to re-closing bars, he also scaled back restaurant capacity to 50%, shut down rafting and tubing businesses, and banned outdoor gatherings of over 100 people unless approved by local officials.

Assessment:  Kudos to Governor Abbott. I fully supported his bold decision on May 1 for beginning the process of re-opening Texas (guidance included a recommendation for wearing masks in public). The data clearly demonstrated the state-wide lockdown and ban on elective medical procedures were causing a greater public health threat to Texans than COVID-19. Governor Abbott demonstrated political courage in beginning the re-opening process for Texas in early May, and great judgement last Friday in making adjustments to policies–when the facts clearly called for such actions.

On March 7, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Austin Mayor Steve Adler demonstrated great political courage when they cancelled South by Southwest (SXSW), an international music, technology and film festival that annually brings 400,000 visitors and a third of a billion dollars to the local economy.

Assessment:  The bold action of Judge Eckhardt and Mayor Adler, at a time when there were fewer than a dozen COVID-19 cases in Texas, likely prevented Travis County and Austin from becoming a major pandemic hotspot. Their actions saved untold numbers of lives.

Honorable Mention: I must also recognize the management of the Black Mountain Ale House in North Carolina who provide the following guidance to their customers.

“We would like to officially welcome you to a new phase of phase 2. So it’s very much like the old phase 2, but this time with a few more statewide requirements–namely, the subject of masks.

For those of you who have familiarized yourselves with the new mandate regarding masks and restaurants and have presumably been following the new rules, thank you–read no further. For those of you who don’t know the rules yet, or would like a more detailed explanation, please read on.

You have to wear a mask when you walk into our restaurant or onto our patio until you sit at a table. After that, feel free to remove your mask and dine on our delectable delicacies or imbibe our cornucopia of cocktails. But you have to wear a mask until you do so.

This is a statewide mandate that merits a fine if it’s not followed. We don’t want to pay a fine. Regardless of your political views, this is just the way it is right now and we’re enforcing it. Yes, we know this is America and some of you may feel you shouldn’t have to obey laws that effect your personal preference (remind yourself of that every time you buckle your seat-belt and wear pants in public, the abandonment of which both carry hefty fines). However, we’re wearing the masks All day; Twelve hours for some of us. We’re not going to walk up to you and complain about the masks. We’re not going to tell you whether or not we approve of wearing them. We’re going to wear them. Because that’s what’s happening right now. 

This isn’t a 1984 moment. Big Brother isn’t coming down on you. Just wear the mask for a while. If you don’t want to wear the mask, then definitely don’t wear it. But definitely spend your time at home not wearing it, or somewhere on a mountaintop perhap, or anywhere else that will allow you to break the rules and be the rebel you’ve always wanted to be. But regardless of your stance on masks (and we can’t stress to you enough how little we care about anyone’s stance on masks) you have to wear one here== until you get to your table. Then you’re home.

We hope to see half of your faces very soon.”