Numbers have become the driving issue for the country and the world. Sadly, these numbers, all describing victims of the COVID-19 pandemic do little to tell the real story which is one of human impact.
Elected officials have become so focused on meeting goals dictated by numbers such as the number of new cases, number of deaths or the number of recoveries that they have overlooked the psychological, social and economic impacts of their decisions. The oversight is now resonating with frustration that could result in contempt of the law and leadership.
To promote the appearance of leadership, elected officials such as Governor Cooper are providing daily updates on the number of COVID-19 cases and actions to be taken to stem any increase in those numbers. But in reality the governor and other elected officials are hiding. Their use of statistics does nothing to connect with the public. And then to follow up with dictates that further inhibit or restrain the public only increases public frustration and distrust.
What is needed is a conversation at every level of government leadership. Governor Cooper should be meeting with various stake holders on a regular basis to hear their concerns and, even if it results in disagreements, at least provide a reason for his decisions. All of his appearances to date are predicated on giving reports and in some cases unilateral mandates. He has not provided an opportunity for dialogue about his actions, which gives him a sense of security and a resulting image of being disconnected with his constituents.
The growing dissatisfaction with the governor’s actions can be seen with the weekly protests in Raleigh by #ReopenNC and the recent decisions by county commissioners to ignore portions or all of the governor’s mandates. While this may be seen as a political dispute since Cooper is seeking re-election in November, these acts are examples of growing distrust in the system. This distrust can develop into contempt of both the law and leadership which in the long run diminishes civic solutions.
The leadership of the state is only one level of the growing frustration with elected leadership. At the county and municipal levels there is a growing frustration and distrust displayed by residents and businesses.
The recent decision by Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton to restrict access to Beaufort with roadblocks was perceived by many as heavy handed and lacking justification. Recent actions by the beach mayors restricting beach access have resulted in growing frustration from businesses, residents, tourists and most notably, surfers.
All of these restrictions have been altered and/or totally removed. But what is left is frustration and distrust.
An earlier editorial in the News-Times did recognize the conundrum local officials faced having to balance the wellbeing of their community against an invisible threat only measured by numbers provided by state and national health officials. As noted in that editorial these local decisions were being made “on the fly” with absolutely no precedent for comparison. And these local elected officials are volunteers, lacking professional guidance available at the state and federal levels. Their hands were further tied by state and federal mandates as well.
Recent statistical analysis has proven, fortunately, that predictions were overstated. Originally the country was expecting upwards to 240,000 deaths but that number has dropped to about 60,000. Given the disparity between predictive models and actual results gives additional need for elected leaders to show up for a conversation with their constituents and to listen to their concerns, pro and con.
This effort should start at the local level with municipalities and county government convening town hall meetings to discuss the current situation and strategies going forward.
Governor Cooper is providing little guidance, just mandates for a phased-in recovery process. That guidance lacks any real benefit for residents and businesses who are beginning to feel the financial impact of what can be described as arbitrary and draconian measures.
As the patient numbers for COVID-19 decline, paradoxically the number of economic victims are rising exponentially. Currently more than 20 million people are out of work and a growing number of businesses have announced permanent closure. This is a critical moment requiring elected officials to be more responsive and less reactive.
Communication is now the most needed effort on the part of our elected leaders. A continued push of numbers without a sense of human concern for the impact of decisions resulting from these numbers will increase resentment and ultimately an increase in distrust in our political system which is far more destructive than COVID-19.