Late in December, the Lamont administration announced that they’d secured millions of at-home COVID-19 tests and N95 masks to distribute to state residents. Then, as towns were preparing distribution centers, they announced that somehow the deal had fallen through and that the tests and masks we’d been assured were heading for Connecticut were, in fact, going to someone else.
What exactly happened is still somewhat unclear, but it was apparently the sort of very fluid situation where placing an order doesn’t mean anything will be delivered and that competitors can undercut one another at any point to turn the trucks around. In short, it was the kind of dog-eat-dog chaos capitalism that we endured back at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, when PPE, tests and ventilators were in desperately short supply.
The collapse of the deal left municipalities holding the bag as mask and test distribution events were hastily canceled. And while the state has managed to acquire and distribute plenty of tests and masks since, there are still lingering questions about this deal that should make us uneasy.
There are nuts-and-bolts questions, such as whether the administration knew that they were entering a free-for-all before they made the order? If not, why? Did the distributor not make that clear? Are we in danger of this happening again? Can cities and towns count on the state to actually deliver what it promises?
But there are also larger questions. Distributing tests and masks is great, and vaccines continue to be vital, but why aren’t we looking at other, more concrete ways to stop the spread of the virus? Schools are still open for in-person learning. There is no statewide mask mandate, nor are employers being told to encourage working from home when possible. State offices remain open, as do bars, restaurants, and businesses.
Nobody likes the idea of a lockdown. Parents and teachers dread the return of remote learning – and with good reason. Business owners who managed to survive 2020 desperately want to avoid another long period of being closed.
And yet, closing things down for a week or two would save lives. It would help stop the spread. So why aren’t we at least thinking about it? Why aren’t we considering moving schools online, at the very least, or giving businesses and individuals incentives to close or stay home?
And for that matter, why was Connecticut ordering masks and tests on its own? Where was the federal government? The Biden administration seems to have been caught without any kind of plan for a major surge in cases, leaving states to scramble for what little they could get.
I thought we were supposed to be past this. Wasn’t the Biden administration supposed to bring back competence, expertise, and smart, insightful planning? Why has there been no unified federal response? And while the federal government is preparing to send out hundreds of millions of test kits through the U.S. Postal System, as of this past weekend, the program had yet to begin.
It reinforces the lesson: when it comes down to it, we are on our own.
The politics of all of this are unforgiving. While we can’t entirely blame the Lamont administration for their mask and test deal falling through, we can fault them for not planning ahead. We can blame the Biden administration for the same, even though they were presented with what now seems like a very prescient plan to send tests to every household back in October.
And while the omicron variant spread fast, it has been more than a month since the first U.S. case, and six weeks since the WHO designated omicron as a variant of concern. Why didn’t we do more to prepare then, instead of rushing to fill gaps now?
If we are scrambling this much to meet what seem like fairly obvious needs in hindsight, how in the world are we going to prepare for the next pandemic?
I blame election-year politics, at least in part. Politicians have every reason to try to keep things seeming as normal as possible – even though we haven’t had a normal day in two years – because that’s what people want. Control of Congress and the fate of Ned Lamont’s governorship all hinge in large part on whether we feel like we’ve achieved some kind of normalcy by November. Publicly preparing for the omicron surge in a way that would have made a difference now might have looked like the very opposite of normal at the time, and might have triggered a serious backlash against the party in power.
Democrats here and in Washington want us to trust them with helming the pandemic response. They need to do much more to earn, and keep, that trust.