Are politics at play during the COVID-19 pandemic?
They sure seem to be, and one doesn’t have to look far to see what I mean.
For weeks, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves resisted calls to implement a statewide shelter-in-place order, but last week, he suddenly reversed course and issued the order. The order came after a rapid rise in the number of positive cases throughout the state and multiple deaths.
Only hours before, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a similar order, and, in explaining his action, said that he did so after a “change in demeanor” from President Donald J. Trump.
In recent weeks, the president has certainly changed his tone on the virus. For months, he downplayed the severity of the threat, but he seems to have finally realized that the virus is a problem that will not be solved with partisan rhetoric.
Under his leadership, the federal government is now encouraging strict social distancing policies and finally pumping much-needed medical supplies to the states.
Did Reeves, like DeSantis, only change his mind about the order after receiving permission of sorts from the White House? The timeline seems to confirm my suspicion, and it’s also helpful to remember that both governors are well-known allies of the president.
It’s alarming to think that elected governors – leaders who should uphold the best interests of their citizens over the beliefs of a president – are taking cues from Trump in times of crisis.
These leaders should instead rely on experts – and, in this case – medical professionals.
Mississippi Today, the statewide nonprofit news organization, said that a big reason for Reeves choosing to issue the order was a grim plea from LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor and dean of the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
In an email to Reeves, Woodward wrote, “Without a statewide ‘shelter in place’ starting very soon (which is proving effective elsewhere), our health system will be overwhelmed. The immediate time frame (right now) is our last inflection point in controlling COVID-19 in our state.”
Woodward added that a shelter-in-place order “is the only additional thing we can do right now to decrease the force of the impact … every ventilator and ICU bed we can spare will matter.”
Despite the excellent reporting by Mississippi Today, I think there’s much more to Reeves issuing the order than an email from Woodward. Her request should have been all that was needed, but I have a sinking feeling politics were at play.
During his lengthy career in Mississippi politics, Reeves has proven to be quite the political animal, and he has also chosen to closely align himself with Trump. Like DeSantis, he seems to bask in the limelight that Trump occasionally shines on him via his Twitter feed.
I hope I’m wrong, and I hope that Reeves is not making his decisions based on the shifting moods of the Trump White House. The governor needs to remember that he was elected to serve the citizens of Mississippi and not the president.
It’s time for Reeves to set politics aside and be a forward-thinking, independent and strong governor of the Magnolia State.