By Stephen Knight
In about two months, we will be marking two years since the Covid-19 pandemic began its destructive course through the world. As you read this, yet another variant of the virus is taking its toll, but how we are dealing with it is quite different than our first efforts. Granted that most of us are vaccinated, so that the severity of the disease is significantly reduced, but it is still a cloud hanging over our heads 24/7.
Many books will be written about this time that we may learn from, but some lessons are available now. This column will list four of the many. What will not be discussed is the ridiculous argument among the national political parties about who was to blame for the most deaths, an idiotic exercise if there was ever one. Let’s agree now that no one knew either what we were facing, how to bring it under control, or what measures would or would not be effective. I will try to focus on the State of Connecticut efforts, for those are the ones, save the vaccine and the first two federal relief efforts, that had the greatest impact, for good or for ill.
Lesson One: Local works best: Even in a state as small as ours, moving the fight to local governments is still the most effective. Yes, the overall strategy came from Hartford, and, given the novelty of what we were facing, Governor Lamont did a very credible job. But he did empower and fund local government to carry out many of the efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus. No better example of the effectiveness of this tactic exists than in our own Town of Wallingford Health Department. Director Steve Civitelli and his very professional staff fought this scourge with persistence, tenacity and imagination. His department was front and center from the very start. He enlisted help from many organizations, kept everyone fully informed, and constantly devised and revised efforts to make them more effective.
Lesson Two: Total lockdowns are not the answer: In March of 2020, faced with a completely unique situation, government’s reaction was to separate us all from each other to stop the spread. Perhaps it worked, but the disruption to hundreds of thousands of individuals’ lives and fortunes was too heavy a price to pay. Two years later, we appear to have learned that lesson. Perhaps it’s a political response, but that’s what democracy is about. At least the state government’s reaction to Omicron is a measured one. Instead of slamming the brakes on the economy, the governor is carefully maneuvering to avoid obstacles. Students are still in school for the most part in Connecticut. Businesses are open, with appropriate safeguards in place.
Lesson Three: Free people will cooperate, but only up to a point: Trump and Biden lost almost all credibility because they both fed us mountains of hoodah throughout this pandemic. Even the sainted Anthony Fauci and the head of the CDC have hemmed, hawed and spoken out of both sides of their mouths such that only the media take them seriously anymore. America’s greatest strength is in its people and our ability to turn charlatans out of office. Yes, we learned lessons on how to fight a pandemic, but the biggest lesson our elected officials learned was this: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” (attributed to Abraham Lincoln, perhaps inaccurately) Hence the light touch state government is using presently vis-à-vis restrictions on its citizens.
Lesson Four: The American people are the most generous on earth: This sounds like hyperbole, but it is true, statistically and otherwise. We certainly saw it locally: an outpouring of financial support to the many social service organizations helping people through this crisis. The raising of $200,000 by the Meriden Wallingford Community Foundation Coronavirus Response Fund in less than four months would be just one example, and there are hundreds more we have witnessed. We did ourselves proud, as we most always do in an emergency.
For the past twenty months, Covid-19 has been practically all we talk about, because it has affected us in so many ways. But if there is a silver lining to all of this devastation, we learned as much what not to do as what to do.
But the ultimate lesson is one we have been taught over and over again: Americans are a good and generous people, but they have a healthy skepticism of government. Tell them the truth, and they’ll cooperate. Treat them like children, and eventually they stop obeying instructions from on high. It’s just part of our national DNA, and has been for four hundred years.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.