OP-ED: Coronavirus pandemic illustrates why competent government is so important

Ann McFeatters
Tribune News Service

And now we know, really know, why government is important. Even why politicians are (gulp) vital.

Our lives, our families, our jobs, our recreation, our vacations, our schools, our religious observances — and our investments – are turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic, and the worst hasn’t occurred yet.

Experts are saying if no quick action is taken, hospitals could be “slammed” in two weeks. There aren’t enough nurses, doctors, lab technicians, beds or ventilators to handle what may be just around the corner. And what about the people who must go to the hospitals for heart issues, strokes, broken bones and pneumonia?

Healthy people who get coronavirus usually will get a mild case. The problem is that they may infect seniors or people with compromised immune systems who may die. Germany is estimating two-thirds of its population will get the virus. Italy has completely shut down.

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

When the White House ignored the severity of the coronavirus threat for far too long and squandered time, it was state and local political leaders who stepped up, demanding test kits, warning citizens how dangerous a new, aggressive pandemic virus will be, how vulnerable seniors are, buying old motels for quarantining people who shouldn’t be in hospitals, restricting attendance of more than 250 at sporting events and concerts.

And some of them, such as Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee, desperately working around the clock as the virus spread in his state -- which has the highest number of deaths, were called out as a “snake,” by the president of the United States.

A president who spent much of his time playing golf at his Florida resort, on taxpayer dollars, and in a kooky, embarrassing move visited the Centers for Disease Control in golf clothes while denying a crisis was at hand. A president who said infected Americans should not be taken off a cruise ship because it might look bad to have more cases on his watch.

Ok. Enough about him.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has become a national hero, telling us the truth when others pooh-poohed the danger. The worst, he said, is yet to come.

Because the administration cut funding and eliminated scientists responsible for containing the spread of such deadly ailments as Ebola, influenza and, now COVID-19, the infrastructure was missing to take quick, effective action to prevent a major outbreak. We’ll be paying for it now, big time.

Let’s not forget that scientists and bureaucrats aren’t the ones who mobilize the country; politicians are. That’s probably why Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid is failing; we need steadiness and experience, not political revolution, more chaos and risky experiments.

There are so many things we need to do. Paid sick leave. More availability of tests. Waivers to let people who are sent home from work get unemployment pay. Faster testing. Isolation of infected people while making sure they are properly cared for. Authoritative, consistent messaging. Paying attention to the medical experts. Protection of first responders. Providing food for students no longer getting school lunches. More public health workers. Ending large indoor political rallies. Safeguarding of nursing homes. Government spending to help small businesses get through the next six months.

We are headed for recession; monetary stimulation could make it less painful, especially for millions of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck and have no paid time off.

We do not need a payroll tax cut, which would take weeks to filter through the economy and affect only people getting paid.

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, this is the time for governments to take action, not worry about deficits. And this is why budget surpluses are a good idea and unpaid-for $2 trillion-tax cuts for the 1% even in a healthy economy are not.

We’re told not to panic and to balance our personal situations, being cautious if we are over 70 or immune compromised. Easier to do if we know political leaders are telling us the truth, keeping us updated and planning for contingencies.

Competence, honesty and political teamwork would be nice about now, as would speed.

— Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at