Several years ago, a good friend of mine called to tell me she was going to become a grandmother. Her son in high school had impregnated his high school sweetheart, and he and the expectant mother were living in my friend’s home. My friend, a religious Christian, assured me they were living in separate bedrooms. That is when I recall saying, “I think you are closing the barn door after the horse has gone.”

I was reminded of this story by the recent and belated actions of several Republican governors who have grudgingly instituted mask mandates and other health related restrictions. Up to now, these governors, like most of their Republican peers, were following conservative orthodoxy which pretty much says telling people what to do is an infringement on their personal freedom guaranteed by our Constitution.

In North Dakota, cases had been skyrocketing with almost 2,300 cases reported in just one day in mid November with a positivity rate of a frightening 17 percent. In other words, almost one in every five people in North Dakota who was tested for the virus had it. Hospitalizations had also risen dramatically, and North Dakota was rapidly running out of staff and ICU beds.

For months, health advocates had been beseeching these governors to do something, but the Trump administration was discouraging mandates, and few in the Republican Party dared  buck the president. When the situation in North Dakota finally became disastrous, the governor relented and issued the mandate, and a few other governors have followed suit. Unfortunately, the proverbial horse had already left the barn for those who had died or were still on ventilators fighting for their lives.

With the virus now running rampant throughout the country, there are still governors reluctant to mandate anything, including the governor of South Dakota, where the per capita rate of hospitalization is the nation’s highest. Their legacy will be the death of thousands of their residents.

Obviously, a mask mandate is better late than never, but had Trump encouraged these mandates early in the pandemic when he knew how lethal the virus was, many of the lives lost could have been saved, and we would not have had to borrow trillions of dollars to keep our economy from collapsing.

Good leadership involves being proactive not reactive, and when history is written, our failure to enact mandatory health measures will be at the top of the list for why the United States has by far the most number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Burt Ross

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