BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
As the pandemic fades away, we as a society need to take an unflinching look back at what we did to combat Covid so that we don’t make the same mistakes next time.
After 9/11, we had a bipartisan commission investigate what happened. They called witnesses, collected thousands of pages of documents and wrote a report intended to instruct the government on avoiding another terrorist attack. We’ve got to do the same with the Covid crisis. Here’s a rough outline of what I think investigations on the local, state and national level should cover.
How did we miss it?
1. Why didn’t we know this virus was spreading in China before it arrived here? Did China hide information? Did the World Health Organization, which isn’t supposed to be partial to any country, help China in a coverup?
Man-made or natural?
2. Can we tell, by examining the virus, whether it was man-made or naturally occurring? If it was man-made, was it purposefully unleashed on the world or did it accidentally escape from a lab? If it was naturally-occurring, how did that happen and how can it be prevented from happening again?
3. What happened to Fang Bin, the citizen journalist in China who warned about this disease and then disappeared? And what about Dr. Li Wenliang, who tried to issue the first warning about the coronavirus outbreak but was threatened and harassed by the Chinese government. He died after coming down with Covid, but questions remain about whether he contracted the disease by accident or was purposely exposed to the virus.
4. Should we have shut down our borders to people from China sooner?
A three-week lockdown
5. In March 2020, government officials — claiming they were “following the science and data” — said people needed to go into lockdown to stop the spread of the disease and not overwhelm hospitals. However, very few hospitals ever got close to being overwhelmed in March 2020. Then the three-week shutdown was expanded for months. Were these officials mistaken when they said they only needed three weeks? Or was it a test to see if people would obey their orders without a backlash?
Who advised Newsom?
6. When Gov. Gavin Newsom decided to order the lockdown, who gave him advice? When you make an important decision like this, you should have a broad array of experts in the room to debate the pros and cons. In 1962, President Kennedy had to respond to the Soviets building launch sites for nuclear missiles in Cuba. When it came time to decide how to respond, he filled the Oval Office with experts from all parts of the political spectrum, doves and hawks. Did Newsom reach out to any economists, successful business owners or experts in childhood development?
Governor’s emergency powers
7. Is it a good idea to give a governor this much power in an emergency? Should other top officials — legislators, the state attorney general, judges — have a say in such decisions?
8. Newsom, like Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, ordered nursing homes in March 2020 to take Covid sufferers. It didn’t get as much publicity here in California, but it should be reviewed as part of this investigation. How many people died from this policy in California?
Lying to the public
9. Dr. Anthony Fauci admitted he lied about whether people should wear masks, saying he didn’t want to require them until hospitals could stockpile a supply for their employees. Is lying to the public ever the right choice? Should the government treat the people as children who can’t be told the truth?
10. How did California’s response compare with other states? How did the U.S. response compare with other countries? What was the most successful approach?
11. President Trump’s statements about the virus were inconsistent from day to day, to put it kindly. How should a president communicate to Americans on a day-to-day basis about an unfolding crisis like this in the future? Should the political parties have dropped the partisanship during this emergency?
12. Did the news media try to frighten people in order to boost their own ratings? A CNN director was caught on a hidden camera by the conservative outfit Project Veritas admitting the network hyped the virus scare because “fear really drives numbers.” (By the way, he warned that the next big CNN scare story will involve the climate.)
13. Why wasn’t the distribution of vaccines planned better? Vaccines first became available in December, and here we are in May and we’re still administering shots to people. Who screwed this up? Why didn’t we use last summer and fall to plan the distribution?
14. Was it necessary to keep the schools closed as long as they were? At the beginning of the pandemic, we were told by government leaders that “science and data” would decide all things. But when the science told us — and even Dr. Fauci told us — that schools were safe, why did it take so long to reopen them? This is a case where Palo Alto got it right, and the rest of the country ought to be asking our school leaders how they did it.
15. How many people committed suicide or drifted into alcoholism or drug abuse because of the lockdown and the recession it caused? Could that have been prevented?
16. Who decided in Santa Clara County that it was a good idea to place tougher restrictions on churches than Home Depot or Costco? That’s the analogy the U.S. Supreme Court used when it rebuked the county twice over its unusual restrictions on churches. If lockdowns are ever required again, how do we protect First Amendment rights in this county such as the freedom to worship?
17. Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody would frequently order new restrictions without divulging the science behind those decisions. A state law prevents the Board of Supervisors from firing a county health officer during an emergency, even if the officer goes rogue. Residents’ complaints had no influence on these restrictions, even when they violated the constitution (see above). Should the Legislature change the law that shields health officers?
How do we respond?
Going back to the first set of questions, if we suspect that a person, a company or a country intentionally unleashed the Covid virus on the world, how do we respond to that?
Do we have a trial? Where’s a neutral location for such a trial? What if the accused refuses to participate? Do we try the defendant in absentia?
What laws should apply? Who will be the jury? How do we determine damages? Can you put a price on a human life? What’s the price for the destruction of a business that was a person’s lifetime dream? What’s the price for a lost year of a young person’s life?
How do we collect damages from the perpetrator?
If a country is to blame, how do we punish those who are to blame and not harm innocent people in that country? If China is to blame, how do we prevent violence against Asians in our country?
If we do nothing, does that give a green light to those who want to do us harm?
I’m sure the local, state and federal officials who handled this crisis want to avoid an investigation because they don’t want their decisions scrutinized.
They’ll argue that this was an unpredictable and surprising virus. But they were also the ones saying last year that the critics should back off because their decisions were guided by “the science and the data.” If they were guided by “the science and the data,” how come they made so many mistakes?
We ought to demand an investigation on the local, state and federal level so that the same mistakes aren’t repeated next time.
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.