ctnewsjunkie file photo
Gov. Ned Lamont speaks to reporters on March 10 in the Emergency Operations Center at the State Armory (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

On Jan. 20, both the United States and South Korea confirmed their first cases of the coronavirus. In the 3½ months since, South Korea has had just under 11,000 confirmed cases, and 256 deaths. The United States, on the other hand, has surpassed 1.3 million confirmed cases, with almost 79,000 deaths.

Some, though, have taken issue with comparing the infection/mortality rates of the United States and Korea – after all, there are more than 320 million people living in the US, against South Korea’s comparatively small 51 million population.

Let’s concede that, and compare South Korea to Connecticut instead. There are 3.5 million people living here, which is less than 10% of South Korea’s population. Yet Connecticut has almost 33,000 confirmed cases, and 2,932 deaths, 11 times the amount of South Korea.

What accounts for such an unbelievably stark difference? In a word: leadership.

As The Atlantic notes, the South Korean government leapt into action almost immediately by instituting contact tracing, social distancing, and mandatory self-isolation. They’ve tracked cell phones. They’re building capacity to deal with a potential second wave. These were all steps that would be unthinkable in normal times, but the leadership of South Korea implemented those steps and saved lives.

What we’ve seen in the United States, though, is a failure of leadership at almost every level. As South Korea has shown, continued death and suffering is not inevitable during this pandemic, but it requires hard choices that may be unpopular. It requires leaders to accept responsibility for things they did or did not do, learn from mistakes, and change course when necessary. While many of our elected officials have wasted no time touting the effectiveness of their efforts, the numbers tell a different story.

While the failures of President Trump’s administration have been well-documented, state officials have similarly dragged their feet in critical ways. One of the best examples of the leadership failures here was the inexplicable delay in ordering residents to wear face masks. Gov. Ned Lamont issued a public health emergency declaration on March 10. It took 40 days for the face mask order to come into effect on April 20.

Another was waiting until two weeks before the potential re-opening of public schools to tell the state what we already suspected about schools remaining closed. By waiting so long to state the obvious, school officials have been forced to plan for the possibility of reopening May 20. That took preparation time away from the real conundrum: how are schools going to work in the fall?

The challenges of education in the fall provide yet another example. The Lamont administration recently shared recommendations for a phased reopening of colleges throughout the state. Those recommendations came from the Higher Education Subcommittee of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group. Leaving the decision to reopen in the hands of the individual colleges, as the report suggests, would be a dangerous abrogation of the responsibilities of the state.

Leadership is difficult. Leaders are forced to operate with incomplete information and make quick decisions that will certainly upset some people. They are constantly second-guessed. They work with the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads constantly.

But if you asked to be the leader, then that’s your job. Taking action that doesn’t work out is a mistake, and there will be mistakes. Waiting to lead is a failure that has consequences. The deaths of thousands of people, both in the state and around the country, is a failure that we must hold all leaders accountable for.

Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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