Looking Back to the Beginning of the Pandemic

It was about this time last year (early February 2020) that I started really worrying about what the pandemic would mean for America. I had seen estimates like this one that, if we did nothing, up to 2,000,000 people could die. As I recall, nations other than China were really starting to see surges in February of 2020.


I'm a little ashamed, in retrospect, that it took me another month (March 11) to write this email to my colleagues in Kentucky about how to responsibly engage with the Kentucky legislature given the impending crisis and what we knew already about the virus and how to fight its spread. (By March 11, Gov. Beshear had already declared a State of Emergency (3/6) and would close the State Capitol to non-essential personnel (as part of a life-saving statewide shutdown) less than a week later (3/17)).


While I should have written this email sooner, I *am* proud for having written it at all and very, very proud of the careful, urgent work the ThriveKY Coalition does to make #HealthyAtHome a reality for all Kentuckians—before, during, and after (some day) a pandemic.

Hey Everyone,

I want to talk about COVID–19. I am growing increasingly certain that we are days away from real crisis in our country. This group is obviously centered around public health, and I hope we can devote at least a little time on COVID–19 on our Friday call. I want to talk with you, my allies, about how we respond—internally and externally—to COVID–19.

Here is an article from Yascha Mounk that contains the very basic facts of COVID–19. His conclusion is also the title of the article: Cancel Everything: Social distancing is the only way to stop the coronavirus. We must start immediately.

Here is a thread from Jeremy Konyndyk that contains some very compelling charts and analysis showing that we are basically 10–14 days away from being where Italy is now (I will note here that Italy has better health care, better testing, and better leave policies than America; additionally, COVID–19 has also (to my knowledge) not been made a partisan issue there.) Konyndyk served as USAID’s chief of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance from 2013–2016. (So, unlike me, actually knowledgable.)

I tweeted last night that “#kyga20 feels increasingly irresponsible (just its continued gathering; I’m not talking about the bad bills)” and “I’m not sure how to balance advocacy…with the social distancing I know will make a difference in slowing the spread of COVID–19.”

I recognize, of course, we have a responsibility to do our jobs in Frankfort. However, I also think part of that responsibility includes behaving in ways that are consistent with the (seemingly extreme, but I am convinced absolutely necessary) social distancing that public health experts say is the only way to slow the spread of COVID–19.

So, I am just really struggling with what responsible advocacy looks like. I’m well aware that if we just stay away from Frankfort, the jackals win. But, I also cannot think of a worse practice than gathering from around the state each week the hundred+ most public-facing figures, letting them mingle with hundreds of other people for five days, and then sending them back home for the weekend.

I am not sure what to do and am looking to you for guidance. Part of me wants to say,

“This should not be happening. Everyone should be at home. If that means passing a placeholder budget and reconvening for a special session in the summer—fine. We can afford the daily cost of a special session. We cannot afford the harm we are doing right now.”

I know that wouldn't accomplish much (especially since COVID–19 is a partisan hoax). It would maybe make me feel a little less complicit in the harm; it would definitely deepen the kooky vibe that is so core to my #brand.

But, it does feel like I/we need to do/say something.

Speaking of kooky vibe, thank you for indulging me in this fretful email. I appreciate it and you.

Ben