The Quiet Death of Science Based Leadership
Even governors in blue states have a limit to which they are willing to indulge public health experts.
The Quiet Death of Science Based Leadership
The Benefits of a Half-Vaxed State
Looney Tunes: Bully for Bugs
The Quiet Death Of Science Based Leadership
It seems appropriate on the edge of the 1 year anniversary of this newsletter that I return to a topic that I’ve been talking about since literally the first issue of this newsletter nearly a year ago when I chided Georgia governor Brian Kemp for his pandemic response. It wasn’t because he was opening the state too late (or too early) but because he seem unable to coordinate a clear, bold, simple set of guidance that allowed the citizens of Georgia to guide their personal and business decisions.
I prefer open to closed, especially at this late date. But what I like even more is to have a leader who can command stability and clarity. Clarity is important so that businesses and individuals can keep clear in their minds what the rules are. Stability is important because switching from one phase to another means figuring out a new set of rules, adapting your business and personal conduct accordingly, replanning resources and personnel, and managing a hundred things that simply can’t turn on a dime.
This is why I was distressed when I found out on Monday that Seattle was about to move backward, from Phase 3 to Phase 2, because certain metrics related to phase movement had been triggered. Specifically, our Road to Recovery plan specifies that the county must have fewer than 5 COVID hospitalizations per week per 100,000 residents and fewer than 200 new positives for a two week period. Since King County (Seattle) was above both those metrics, it looked like we would have to move back a phase.
This seemed confirmed with this quote from Dr. Jeff Duchin, the King County Public Health Officer, who said:
“It’s a done deal… As much as I’d love to go back in time and change things in a way that would decrease the number of COVID-19 cases and the hospitalizations that occurred in King County, I just can’t do that. We have to live with the consequences of our actions.”
I will not go on a tangent about how much I despise the paternalism of that statement, you can read me ranting at him if you like, but it was my expectation from that quote that we would be moving back to Phase 2 along and endure all the stress and disruption that accompanies that move.
But Governor Jay Inslee surprised me. Instead of moving King County back a phase as dictated by our public health plan, he merely announced a two week pause on state-mandated phase movement while we wait for the numbers to improve. Counties can still make their own decisions to move backward which is, I think, an appropriate allowance for regional independence, but the state will not demand any county move backward.
I like this. I think this is an appropriate form of leadership. It is completely reasonable for an executive to take account of the public health expert opinion and say “Your advice is duly noted. We’re not going to do that.”
We recently saw Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer do the same thing when she bucked the advice of her health experts and declined to reinstate lockdowns in response to Michigan’s most recent surge.
"As a matter of disease mitigation, there's no question" shutting down activities like dining inside restaurants, youth sports and moving high schools to virtual learning would be effective in slowing transmission in the state, said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein…
Sharfstein is among four national experts Whitmer said she has consulted to inform her and health department leaders on COVID-19 decisions, and who, she said, suggested "policy changes won’t reduce the spread."
Instead, Whitmer has encouraged Michiganders to take a voluntary two-week break from dining inside restaurants and getting together with friends. She suggested high schools should consider virtual learning for two weeks after spring break and suggested sports teams voluntarily bench themselves.
Again, we can disagree with her recommendations or her politics, but Whitmer showed leadership in making the decision that lockdowns were not the appropriate response to the surge.
Last summer, I praised Florida and Texas for managing pandemic response in a flexible way, saying:
It is foolishness to look at a single metric and say “If we don’t stick to this metric, we are all doomed”. This has been my frustration with some of the complaints against Florida’s re-opening plan: Governor DeSantis has shown flexibility in opening as the facts change, often rapidly, on the ground.
This vision of flexibility and tenacity in getting things open and giving people freedom was frequently derided as “anti-science” because these governors were not allowing their public health officials to take over the job of governing the state. In the early stages of this crisis, public health officials become the avatars of “science” and certain people patted themselves on the back for locking their states into a metric-based re-opening system.
The problem is that these systems didn’t do much to keep people safe. What they did was protect governors from making hard decisions.
These governors have seen the failures of a system they were certain would bring success and have instead adopted the pattern of pandemic leadership that Gov DeSantis pioneered a year ago: listen to your experts, balance the risk against the needs of the citizenry, and give people the predictability and stability they need to work through this crisis.
The Benefits Of A Half-Vaxed State
I have to confess that I was somewhat surprised by the extent of the Michigan surge this last month. When the numbers started really climbing in mid-March, Michigan was chugging right ahead on vaccines, having vaccinated over 60% of their seniors and 25% of their overall adult population. That was clearly not enough to keep the surge from surpassing even the worst of the surges in the summer of 2020.
Here I’ve set the Michigan and Arizona surges alongside each other. We can see they are likely going to be a similar duration, though Michigan’s case peak was higher.
However, something really interesting happens when we plot COVID deaths the same way. Keep in mind that 60% of Michigan’s seniors were vaccinated when this surge started.
All the usual caveats apply, deaths are lagging cases, Michigan will still have deaths to count before this wave is truly over, etc. But it is also quite exciting to me that, despite the Michigan surge coming in with 50%-60% more cases than Arizona, they have nevertheless has seen about 30%-40% fewer deaths.
This is still tentative. We’re still proceeding with caution. Ultimately, we don’t want *any* of these surges and it would be really encouraging if, when cases do rise, we would see no corresponding surge in deaths. But it is seems at this early moment that having 60% of your vulnerable population vaccinated saves a lot of lives.
I’m choosing to see this as a hopeful step. Michigan’s adult vaccination rate is now 50% and their senior vaccination rate is 80%. There is reason enough to cross our fingers and hope this is the last of the substantial COVID surges in the United States.
Looney Tunes: Bully For Bugs
I love how this cartoon came to be. There was a producer named Eddie Selzer whom Chuck Jones despised and who was apparently a genius with the ability to identify things that *weren’t* funny that the animation talent then took as a challenge to make funny. From Jones’ brilliant autobiography Chuck Amuck
(Eddie) once appeared in the doorway of our story room while Mike Maltese and were grappling with a new story idea. Suddenly a furious dwarf stood in the doorway: “I don’t want any gags about bullfights, bullfights aren’t funny!” …
Having issues his angry edict, Eddie stormed back to his office. Mike and I eyed one another in silent wonderment. “We’ve been missing something” Mike said. “I never knew there was anything funny about bullfighting until now. But Eddie’s judgement is impeccable. He’s never been right yet.”
Result: Bully for Bugs.
And the resulting cartoon is quite the classic. It’s an excellent gag-fest of Bugs and the Bull and it benefits from the fact that Bugs loses as much as he wins right up until the last gag, which is a delightful Rube Goldberg contraption perfectly timed and paced. I remember being enthralled with the scene of absurd complexity powered by the most perfectly matched orchestral score.