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Friday, June 5, 2020
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When America blinked

By DAN SULLIVAN

The year 2020 will be studied, analyzed and debated by political scientists, sociologists, judicial scholars, health experts and economists for many decades, if not centuries to come. 

Faced with a pandemic whose virulent nature was not readily understood, America instituted the most draconian restriction on individual rights that we have seen in over one hundred years, with the notable exception of FDR’s internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. 

The severe reaction to the Wuhan virus, or COVID-19, was particularly shocking given the fact that pandemics of this nature are not that unusual.  In the last few decades we have seen viral attacks known as SARS, MERS, the Swine Flu, Ebola, West Nile and various strains of the influenza virus.  

Just recently, during the 2017-2018 flu season, over 60,000 Americans died and many more were infected by a strain of influenza.  

If we look back a bit further, the Hong Kong flu swept through the world in 1968-1969, infecting more than a million Americans and killing over 80,000.  The deadly impact was even more crippling in Europe.  

And yet, we didn’t quarantine healthy people and didn’t shut down our economy.  During that period, the Detroit Tigers won the 1968 World Series, the upstart New York Jets won the 1969 Super Bowl and the Boston Celtics won their eleventh championship, all in front of capacity crowds.  

There was even an historic music festival in upstate New York that drew hundreds of thousands of people that you may have heard about.  

Today, the fields of play are empty and Americans sit huddled at home.  We even had a presidential election in November, 1968 and people showed up to vote in person.  Were the right choices made then or is today’s reaction the so called ‘new normal?’

That will be the great historical debate.  I believe that the government at both the national and state and local levels have overreacted to the point where the cure has quickly become worse than the disease. In all of the pandemics previously mentioned, the vast majority of deaths occurred in our most vulnerable populations, the elderly and those with underlying conditions such as heart disease, COPD, diabetes, obesity, cancer, etc. 

It’s not a coincidence that in Washington State and in New York, for example, the hot spots were in nursing homes and senior care facilities.  New York even sent infected patients back into nursing homes after being treated for COVID-19 in a hospital, dramatically increasing the sickness and deaths in those facilities.

Even in Sweden, which took a much more relaxed approach to dealing with the pandemic, the government admits they did not do a good job protecting their nursing home population, allowing staff and outside visitors to interact with the residents without proper protective equipment.  Their failure to take better precautionary measures for that segment of their population skews a death rate that is already showing to be statistically better than many other comparable countries.  

Sweden now estimates that they will achieve ‘herd immunity’ by June, meaning that approximately 70% of their population will have been exposed.  They will be far less likely to have a spike in the fall, which means that schools will open and health care facilities will be back to normal functions.

The closure of ‘non-essential’ businesses, the millions of people forced out of the workforce, the disruption in our supply chains, the quarantining of healthy people and the denial of health care to non-Covid-19 patients has killed the momentum of one of the strongest economies in American history. 

That disruption has severe consequences that I believe will prove to be much greater that the pandemic itself. We are seeing the negative effects already. Sociologists tell us that the loss of a job and isolation are debilitating factors that negatively affect individuals as well as their families, friends and associates.  The increase in suicides, alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, divorce, child abuse, obesity and crime are well chronicled. 

The loss of production affects our GDP and government revenues, leading to fewer services at a time when certain social services and infrastructure are needed more than ever.  All of this leads to collective despair and hopelessness.  It is a vicious cycle of our own creation.  Part of the response has been to add trillions to our national debt and there will be consequences from that for generations to come.

With apologies to Sir Isaac Newton, he could have added one more law of physics: For every government overreaction, there will be another equal government over reaction.  To deal with the initial government overreaction, which shut down businesses and put over 30 million Americans out of work, Congress passed an act giving employers loans to keep their employees on the payroll, and thus ‘tied to the business’ for when things recover.  

At the same time, they increased unemployment benefits so that the unemployed are making over $1,000 per week for staying at home.  Many businesses are having a hard time getting employees back on their payroll, particularly in the restaurant and bar businesses.  Even as these businesses do re-open in some areas, the restrictions on capacity and the reluctance of a cautious customer base will make it hard for employees to make what they are making from the government check.  

The newly passed second phase stimulus bill, which was cruelly denied to struggling Alaska businesses for several weeks by a few House Democrats, has provisions for direct grants to small businesses, which depending on the conditions, may or may not help.  One such condition suggests if you received a phase one loan, you may not qualify for a grant.  Unfortunately, the loans were not of much use to many businesses except to increase their liabilities, so I am hopeful that there will be flexibility in how this phase is administered.  The goal should be to help businesses that were shut down by the government get back on their feet.  I truly hope on behalf of my fellow business owners that these measures help prevent additional closures.

So, what will we do when the next pandemic hits, and it is a certainty that there will be more in the future?  

If we are smart, we will make sure every facility that deals with vulnerable populations, including hospitals, nursing homes, senior housing etc. are well prepared with the right personal protection items, pharmaceutical supplies and life support equipment as well as policies that limit interaction from outside the facilities and employ strict sanitation protocols.  

All levels of government need to be prepared to assist with backup supplies, facilities like field hospitals and personnel where needed.  Individuals will need to continue to follow healthy procedures like hand washing and keeping surfaces clean.  If you are feeling sick, you stay home from work.  Avoid contact with anyone already vulnerable.

Information needs to be clear and consistent.  To this day, many folks are still uncertain whether face masks are an effective tool in stopping the spread of the disease or not. The media has not been helpful, fueling the flames of pandemic fear with constant negative reporting and finger pointing, seemingly for political purposes. After all, it’s another presidential election year and it’s not a secret that the mainstream media wants President Trump gone.  As President Obama’s former chief of staff notably stated, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” 

Will Americans tolerate another government mandated shutdown of their businesses and their lives?  I think not.  From California to Pennsylvania, the protests against limiting our civil rights are growing and courts are starting to weigh in, such as the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that declared their mandates unconstitutional.  

In the future, business owners will not and should not tolerate government choosing winners and losers, declaring one business essential and another business not.  It’s hard for the small book shop owner or restauranteur to see businesses like pot shops or airport bars be allowed to stay open as ‘essential’ while others are forced to lock the doors.  Try and tell the single mom who is the sole provider for her family and was just laid off that her job is non-essential.

Americans see the results from places like South Dakota and Sweden that employed much more moderate pandemic response policies, policies more in line with our historical response.  

We rightfully question whether that would have been the better course of action for the rest of the country.  Will Americans tolerate mass arrests if millions of our citizens rise up and defy future mandates that limit our individual freedoms?  Again, I think not.  It is our right and obligation to question, and if necessary, oppose orders that violate our constitutional rights. Elon Musk did just that in California, where he re-opened one of his plants in defiance of the County edicts.  The County backed down.

When our political leaders are faced with similar challenges in the future, they would be wise to exercise their power with great caution.  Destroying a robust economy and throwing our country into a deep depression simply cannot be the right answer.  Yes, we are a strong and resilient country, but it’s hard to get up off the canvas when the heavy fist of government has smacked you in the forehead.  Too many businesses are down for the count. 

It is a tragedy when anyone dies from a virus like COVID-19 or from any other disease.  When it happens to a loved one, it is easy to think that more should have been done and that extreme measures are justified.  Having lost two brothers in the last 18 months to chronic diseases, I know firsthand the sorrow and pain. It is a tremendous challenge for policy makers to find the right balance between protecting its citizens and causing them more harm.  

When the experts examine the year 2020 in the years to come, will they see that we achieved that thoughtful balance or will they conclude that America looked the pandemic square in the eye………… and blinked?

Dan Sullivan is the former mayor of Anchorage and is a business owner.

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  • Great thoughts Dan. I’ve always been a fan although I live in the valley. If you choose to look at higher offices I would support that.
    History would not approve of how we have responded to this virus. I will not call it a pandemic. I hope our future won’t repeat these mistakes.

  • Well Dan,
    2020 is a long way from over and as the country attempts to return to work, Congress is debating whether or not to give more surveillance powers to William Barr and the DOJ?
    Think Patriot Act on steroids.
    If passed, these new regulations will permit the FBI to look at your entire internet history without a warrant (even if you have a fancy handle) as well as censorship to whatever YouTube and Google considers “misinformation”…
    This debate is occurring as Trump announces he is mobilizing the military to deliver vaccines to a large number of Americans at the end of the year?
    Will these vaccines be mandatory?
    You do not have to listen to “coast to coast” late at night to feel that something is very wrong with the blatant government overreach for a “new” strain of the Coronavirus.
    Think about that as you “sign in” to the state mandatory “contact tracing” logs at your favorite restaurant.
    Maybe it is better to leave the cellphone at home anymore?

    • Obviously, with the past Obama DOJ intrusions into our electoral events, we need someone with more oversight to insure it doesn’t happen again. Don’t worry, the FBI doesn’t care what porn sights you visit, comrade.

  • Very well said Mr. Mayor.

  • Well spoken, sir.

  • This has got to be the first thing this man ever said or wrote that I agree with.

    I am high risk for this virus, but the entire purpose of putting a pause on life was to give our medical community time to gear up and be ready. We have done that. It’s now time to let people go to work. Those of us who are high risk have to make our own decisions and take some personal responsibility. Those that are not high risk will develop immunity. In the meantime, sanitizing everything has done nothing to boost anyone’s immune system. That being said, be kind. It costs nothing.

  • We blinked.

    • Great column. Well said.

  • In regards to my other comment, I am not a citizen of Anchorage, but he was a better mayor than the current holder in office.

  • I agree with this 100%.

  • While there are certainly places in the United States where actual rights have actually been violated, Alaska isn’t one of those places. Anchorage might have been close on a few issues, but then there’s that whole is Anchorage really in Alaska issue.
    .
    When will anyone who thinks their rights as an American actually says which rights have been infringed upon? Just saying that your rights have been violated means nothing unless you can demonstrate which rights specifically have been infringed upon. Keep in mind that there has been due process and many, many court cases for just these types of public health and welfare issues. The Supreme Court has numerous rulings that allow for temporarily suspending certain constitutional rights to protect the public health and welfare.
    .
    I believe in and understand the US Constitution, I just want somebody who is complaining about how their rights have been trampled to tell me exactly which right(s) and why they previous court rulings are unconstitutional.
    .
    I want to get on board with the government overstepping it’s bounds argument, because it usually does, and it certainly has in a few places around the country…just not here. Ham handed and over-reaction sure that’s a conversation we can have, rights being infringed upon…come on, let’s hear which of your rights have been denied.

    • The discrimination of telling one business they are non-essential while allowing a similar business to stay open. Case in point, in Anchorage airport bars and restaurants stayed open for sit down service while all the others were forced to close. The gourmet cheese shop is forced to close but grocery stores selling cheese are open. Pot shops and liquor stores are allowed to stay open as essential while virtually all other small businesses are closed. Enough examples for you?

      This is why the Justice Department announced they will support businesses that were discriminated against by the government policies in their particular jurisdiction. As for me personally, my small business, McGinley’s Pub, was forced to close the day before St. Patrick’s Day with six hours notice. You say you understand the Constitution? Time for a refresher course on equal justice under the law.

      • Mayor Dan,
        .
        I’m glad you were able to articulate which right you feel has been infringed upon, it’s refreshing to have somebody actually say which right(s) they feel have been infringed upon instead of just jumping up and down shouting. Since you feel that Anchorage had infringed upon your rights, as a citizen with standing have you sued Anchorage for their unconstitutional mandates? That’s all part of due process, as I’m sure you are aware.
        .
        I don’t disagree with you by any means, one of the many reasons I choose not to live in Anchorage is because of how the city is run.

      • Mayor Dan,

        I just read this article https://thefederalist.com/2020/05/19/inside-the-defiant-mining-town-bar-that-wont-shut-down-and-die/

        Made me think of you, especially this part…

        “Through those doors lies the first functioning, serviced, old-fashioned bar I’ve seen outside an airport. (Funny how the governors of Virginia, Illinois and California closed every establishment but those serving to sweatpants-and-mask-clad travelers about to pack into a plane and share recycled air for a few hours. Flyers’ anxiety, I guess.)”

        You know the in’s and out’s of the political world far better than I ever will, but the way I understand how things work here is that the Legislature granted our Governor the ability to take certain emergency actions, and in Anchorage the Assembly granted the mayor certain emergency actions. It seems to me that the most egregious mandates in the state are localized in Anchorage.
        Since I am not as familiar with the in’s and out’s of the Anchorage mandates, I will defer to those who are.
        .
        I will say if there are any unconstitutional mandates they seem to be coming from Anchorage, since the AK Legislature has granted the Governor the ability to take emergency action and the actions he has taken have legal precedent. Just yesterday a judge in Oregon overturned the Governors mandates because the Legislature didn’t approve them and the emergency declarations in Oregon can only last 28 days.

    • The right to peaceably assemble, and the pursuit of happiness, by not allowing me, as well as many others, to work.

      • You took the exact words, each for each, right out of my mouth.

      • DSL,
        Did you follow these unconstitutional laws or were you arrested and or fined for your actions? It’s difficult to make the case that your right to peaceably assemble were taken from you if they were never actually taken from you.
        .
        There is also case law, by the Supreme Court, that allows government certain limited abilities to restrict certain rights during times like these.

        • I was laid off, so was left with no choice but to follow. Believe me, were I self employed, I would have attempted to remain in business. Would ‘the law’ have allowed that? Or would I have been fined, or arrested?

    • Due process is the issue: What process is due? The broader the restrictions and deprivations, the MORE process is due and the more limited the duration of those restrictions and deprivations. Just recently, we have seen litigation and court decisions that recognize the limitations on extreme public health edicts. That review takes some time. There isn’t much in the federal or State constitutions about suspending rights and obligations during times of emergencies. A little, but not much. I often do not like the results, but it is time for government to function normally: Public hearings; policies established through enacting laws rather than executive decrees; public debate. That is the process that is due.

  • Great Read !

  • I would like to make two very important points that are usually missed. Everyone must understand we have two varieties of Rights. Unalienable, God-given rights that can never be lawfully taken away because these rights are given to us at conception by God.
    The other is civil rights which are given to us by government. Since these rights are given by government, they also can be taken away by government. It is very seldom that anyone speaks of unalienable rights. This is very sad because these are the only rights that really matter.
    The second point I would like to make is the difference between constitutional rights and constitutionally guaranteed rights. Our constitution does not give these rights, but instead guarantees these unalienable God-given rights. Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

    • What are you saying in regards to the 2nd Amendment?

  • Well said Dan!

  • Asymptomatic transmission.

    .

    That’s what’s different.

    • Thank you.

  • Well done. Mayor Dan is spot on. America over reacted to a contagious flu, the difference between the COVID flu and other flu’s is decisions were made that cost our country livelihoods, something that will prove to be much more detrimental than the fatally rate. Yes, the cure is playing out to be worse than the disease.

    • It’s. Not. The. Flu.

      • I Art Laughing, I’ve seen you state that this not a flu before. I don’t understand. Is this a distinction without a difference? “A rose by any other name ….”.; it seems to
        me as though this is a flu by some other name.

  • Very thoughtfully expressed.
    When can we have the pleasure of voting for you again?

  • When summer comes, this will be the new Civil Rights movement. We have flattened the curve. Now we need to flatten the government (overreach), esp in Alaska.

  • Well stated.
    Unfortunately, the governor has his head so far up the posterior of his Oracle in Yurt that he can no longer discern for himself. He just goes along with whatever she repeats from Fauci et al.
    We have lost our independence and our ability to discern truth, because truth is no longer the objective, control is.
    Payback will be the proverbial big B.

  • A perfectly written recap of America running scared. Our Government was led to believe too many undocumented “science models” created by too many Chicken Littles. Or perhaps another ploy to get rid if Donald Trump? Hmmm…

  • I agree with you but would add that proper equipment for testing and treatment should have been supplied, not doled out politically. No need for mass quarantine if necessary equipment had been available.

  • Well said, Mr. Sullivan. Problem is it doesn’t fit on a bumper strip. That means the liberals who cherish the opportunity they were handed to seize unconstitutional authority have insufficient intelligence to read it all. Much less the ability to think for themselves to understand it.

  • Dan, I am incredibly impressed. Please consider yourself as a primary challenger to the governor. His ignorance and misplaced trust in unqualified advisors has destroyed our state. It seems he just can’t help himself now, mandates just roll off his tongue. A real adult would admit he was wrong and just back off as the international data has matured. But instead we get more detailed mandates, making it still impossible for many to live and work. His inability to think outside of the box and favor liberty over state dictatorship has cost tens of thousands of Alaskans access to necessary health care, their jobs and and their education. We need a business leader like yourself who values individual rights in order to pick up the pieces and put us back together again.

    • CR, you took the words right out of my mouth. Dan Sullivan for governor! Primary challenge! No more listening to Fauci of the north!

  • If Covid-19 is not dangerous why have the White House, Governor Mansions, offices of congressional members, legislative members, courts not reopened fully? Business owners all claim it is OK to reopen but they will socially isolate while putting the workers in harms way. Dan is dead wrong in this article. Governor Dunleavy has actually done a good job on COVID-19 in Alaska by listening to the medical experts not the business owners.

    • Then why are some business owners allowed to stay open and others not? It’s the inconsistency that is maddening. Are you saying that pot shops and liquor stores and airport bars and restaurants are more important than a small gift shop, a gourmet cheese store or a downtown eatery? Equal rights under the law. You clearly did not have to tell your employees that they were no longer essential because the government picked winners and losers and your business was one of the losers. I did.

      • Thanks, Mayor Dan. I agree. I don’t know what kind of business you own, but I still have to pay my office lease, and I chose to continue to pay my one employee. (Everyone else is an independent contractor.) In one breath, housing is considered essential, but the temporary rules one had to follow to actually purchase a home meant they basically shut us down…because apparently having a roof over one’s head was not essential.

        • I am the founding partner of McGinley’s Pub in downtown Anchorage. We were shut down the day before St. Patrick’s Day, a day that earns us a month’s revenue. Still haven’t re-opened – hard to get employees to come back when they are making a $1,000 a week on unemployment.

  • Not just New York, but Pennsylvania sent infected patients back into nursing homes under orders from Dr. Rachel L. Levine.

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