Column: Governing through COVID-19 -- sledgehammer or scalpel?

Gov. Beshear updates COVID-19 in Kentucky
Gov. Beshear updates COVID-19 in Kentucky(KET)
Updated: May. 14, 2020 at 4:26 PM EDT
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Jim Waters
Jim Waters

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - An economic crisis such as the one dragging behind this quarantine like a heavy, unbreakable chain squeezes an entire state, revealing or magnifying the true condition of its economy along with the competency – or lack thereof – of its political leadership.

Some causation for Kentucky’s increasingly dire economic woes unquestionably correlates with the onset of COVID-19.

Fitch Ratings reports Kentucky led the nation with one-third of its entire workforce filing first-time, unemployment-insurance claims between the weeks ending March 14 and May 7.

This crisis has magnified the commonwealth’s incompetence in processing unemployment claims and getting benefits into the hands of Kentuckians whose lives were upended by sudden layoffs as all businesses deemed “nonessential” by Gov. Andy Beshear were shut down.

When Kentuckians who were thrown out of work through no fault of their own needed state government the most, it failed them.

Such a crisis also reminds how government can cause great harm while using a sledgehammer to kill the ant versus leaders who do the harder – but much-less harmful – work of skillfully employing a scalpel to cut out the cancerous growth, thereby protecting an otherwise healthy body.

Kentucky’s economy was arguably its healthiest in a generation right before COVID-19 arrived.

Now it faces a tsunami of new unemployment claims and plunging tax revenues as the result of Beshear refusing to limit his approach and lockdowns to the primary problem areas.

Data clearly show that an overwhelming number of Kentucky’s COVID-19 deaths occur in long-term care facilities.

Why not take a policy scalpel and specifically concentrate on those problem areas instead of throwing the commonwealth’s entire economy into chaos?

Beshear’s approach has differed greatly from the one being employed by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who refused to order a mandatory shutdown, instead offering recommendations to residents and ultimately allowing them to decide which precautions to take in light of substantive information presented in a non-dramatic manner.

Ironically, one of the coronavirus’ hottest spots in the nation was at a meat-packing plant in South Dakota.

Yet while the plant’s owners decided to close the facility, Noem rightly refused to overreact and quarantine the entire state.

Beshear, on the other hand, claims his drastic actions were necessary because healthy people can be carriers yet asymptomatic and thus pass the virus on to more vulnerable Kentuckians, which, as he incessantly drones on about, wouldn’t be a compassionate policy.

Yet Noem’s South Dakota had, according to Fitch’s ranking, the lowest percentage among all states of its workforce filing new unemployment claims during the same period Kentucky led the nation in first-time applications.

The Mount Rushmore State also has among the lowest number of COVID-19 deaths in the nation.

In this tale of two states, which approach actually is more compassionate?

While the rate of COVID-19 deaths among the population of both states is identical – precisely .0007% – one state has arguably saved some lives yet decimated the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of its citizens while another has clearly done both – saved lives and livelihoods.

This is the tale of a nation, too, where, according to the Heritage Foundation’s excellent analysis of the data, 10 states accounted for almost 70 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and nearly 75 percent of all deaths.

In fact, 95 percent of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred in only 10 percent of all U.S. counties, which account for 64 percent of the population.

Different approaches taken by states are certainly magnified during a crisis with one governor employing – based on the best of intentions – his ideology that government must dictate the path every citizen and employer takes through this COVID-19 wilderness while another executive skillfully employs a scalpel instead by trusting individuals, limiting government’s actions and enhancing her people’s chances of recovery and prosperity sooner rather than later.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions. Read previous columns at He can be reached at and @bipps on Twitter.

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