Coronavirus

What Governor Mills can learn from South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem

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Maine Gov. Janet Mills joined Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah on Wednesday to provide an update on the state of the coronavirus pandemic in Maine. During her remarks, Gov. Mills sounded the alarm about the recent uptick in new COVID-19 cases in Maine and around the country. She repeatedly warned the public that “we don’t have this virus under control” and “the virus lurks behind every corner,” even cautioning against “sharing a spaghetti dinner” with a friend. No, really.

Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of cell biology won’t be shocked to learn that the government is struggling to stop germs from spreading – perhaps because it can’t. Just like our economy, the government cannot centrally plan a pandemic despite its fervent attempts to do so.

Interestingly, Gov. Mills joined Dr. Shah on the same day a different governor was making her rounds throughout Maine on behalf of the Trump Campaign: South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. During the press conference, Don Carrigan of News Center Maine asked Gov. Mills what she thought of Gov. Noem’s critical statements about her emergency orders.

Gov. Mills’ response perfectly illustrates her shortsightedness throughout the pandemic. 

“I don’t want to talk politics but I will say that the statistics of South Dakota give her no reason to brag, no reason to boast,” Gov. Mills said. “When you have an average of 900 new cases a day, and they have a smaller population than Maine, I don’t know what she’s doing in her state. She doesn’t ask for our advice. I’m not going to give her advice, but I don’t think she’s in a good position to give us advice.”

It’s unfortunate that Gov. Mills doesn’t seek guidance from Gov. Noem because her response to the coronavirus is markedly different, and it should serve as a model for governors across the country.

Instead of believing that the government can control germs – and putting that belief into action by trying to micromanage every interaction within society – Gov. Noem educated her citizens about the risks of the virus and issued recommendations, not mandates, on how they should protect themselves and their communities. She stressed the importance of individual responsibility and self-determination. More importantly, she didn’t cause the harm Gov. Mills did with her draconian mandates.

It’s no secret why Gov. Mills wants to measure “success” in terms of case counts – Maine’s are undoubtedly lower. However, this is perhaps the narrowest focus one could have about the totality of the pandemic and its impact on people. In other words, it’s not a holistic approach to examining public health. How does Maine compare to South Dakota when you focus on statistics related to the consequences of Gov. Mills’ orders?

How many cancer screenings and chemotherapy treatments were cancelled or delayed in Maine by the governor’s orders, and how many people will lose their battle with the disease as a result? How many “elective” surgeries were delayed, resulting in worse health outcomes and more expensive care? How many childhood immunizations were not performed as scheduled? How many living organ transplants went undone?

How many more Mainers were trapped inside their homes with a domestic abuser? How many more Mainers died from opioid abuse due to severe isolation? How many more Mainers turned to alcohol or other drugs to cope with all the craziness around them?

How many Mainers needlessly lost their job when the governor deemed some businesses “nonessential” and ordered them closed? How many jobs and businesses are permanently lost as a result of her lockdown and suffocating reopening plan? How much human and economic capital has been wasted from her attempts to “control the virus,” and how much more must we lose in order to “beat the virus?”

Gov. Mills could use an ounce of humility. If she or anyone else in Maine thinks she’s doing the right thing by destroying tens of thousands of lives and livelihoods in an attempt to stop germs from spreading, they’re sorely mistaken. To put it plainly, the governor has tunnel vision and refuses to acknowledge the harm she has caused through her lockdown and mandates. 

Almost seven months after we were told to hunker down for just “two weeks” to “stop the spread” of COVID-19, Maine is still trying to control every aspect of our daily lives and the virus is still spreading. Our state is actively deploying its resources to keep all case counts low instead of trying to protect the most vulnerable among us – particularly those in congregate care facilities. 

This isn’t a winning strategy, and it sure as hell isn’t science.

What Gov. Noem’s approach teaches us is that we can take the necessary steps to educate and protect people without destroying their lives and taking away their individual rights. That’s what Gov. Mills can learn from her counterpart in South Dakota. 

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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