May 6, 2020
By Naomi Lopez
My childhood hometown grocery store, Texas-based H-E-B, has been making national headlines for its forward-looking planning and innovations in preparation for the COVID-19 pandemic. As early as mid-January, the company was already communicating with their Chinese and European supply-chain partners and running simulations of how the crisis might play out—and how the company should respond. While the retail experience has had some hiccups—like running out of toilet paper—it provides a shining example of the Goldwater Institute’s principle of allowing businesses to adapt, and it illustrates a contrast with bureaucracy-laden government systems that can be slow to adapt.
Looking back at this crisis, there will be exemplary examples of state governments providing for the health and safety of its citizens while protecting its businesses’ and families’ financial well-being. Given the unprecedented and changing nature of this crisis, even those that fared best will have had missteps and botched efforts. That said, the most successful states will likely be the ones that didn’t attempt to substitute government rules and edicts for business’ and families’ best judgments.
Unfortunately, there will also be those examples of states that, too often, seem to operate in an almost always constant reactionary mode. Take New York State’s leadership, for example, which provides a shocking contrast to H-E-B’s good planning and an adaptive strategy.
Despite being covered in the Wall Street Journal in late March and raising the hackles of nursing home management and physicians, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently claimed that he was unaware of the state’s policy that requires COVID-19 patients, even if they are still positive, to return to their nursing homes.
New York deaths from COVID-19 now exceed 25,000. Almost one-fifth of those deaths are confirmed or presumed positive cases inside nursing homes. These nursing home deaths do not include those residents who passed away in the hospital.
The rationale for forcing nursing homes and adult care facilities to accept all their patients even when they remained COVID-19 positive was to keep hospital beds open. Meanwhile, there were thousands of empty beds at the Javits Center and on the U.S.S. Comfort. The Javits Center’s temporary field hospital has now been shuttered, and the U.S.S. Comfort has now sailed away to its next mission.
And in a move that seems to double down on the absurd, New York City is now considering using senior centers as testing sites. Many weeks after the pandemic began, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is just now beginning to disinfect the subway system on a nightly basis thanks to a recently issued order from the Governor.
This lack of flexibility and forward thinking is not only shocking and tragic for its seemingly incompetent approach that likely led to many unnecessary deaths; it also reflects Americans’ growing mistrust and impatience with some political leaders.
Missteps happen in both the private and public sectors. During an unprecedented crisis, these examples are easy to find. The problem is that, when it comes to government, it is far more difficult to vote with our feet.
The public is becoming impatient with political leaders who take one-size-fits-all approaches to an entire state, push arbitrary policies that don’t serve the stated goals, and, in the most egregious examples, push policies that undermine public health. The Goldwater Institute’s statement of principles should remind government officials that good results—not platitudes or good intentions—matter.
Naomi Lopez is Director of Healthcare Policy at the Goldwater Institute.