There is no denying the debilitating, deflating effects of this extraordinary year: as 2020 draws to a close it might be instructive to look back on the cumulative impact of a global pandemic and resulting, wholesale economic upheaval, and respective efforts to mitigate that impact.
A year ago, the tumult of 2020 was both unforeseeable and unimaginable. The sheer scale of illness, suffering, death, and uncertainty brought on by an out-of-control coronavirus wreaked havoc on the health and financial fortunes of individuals, businesses both large and small, and in some cases, entire economic sectors.
One of this year’s most vexing challenges was to try and balance this conundrum: the best way to quash spread of the virus was to discourage human-to-human transmission, but the resulting separation and confinement spelled across-the-board socioeconomic chaos.
In small shops, factories, and restaurants and in large grocery and retail chains, from childcare centers and public schools to colleges and universities, and across the transportation spectrum throughout the entire travel and hospitality industries, 2020 was a year to forget.
In each scenario, a common thread emerged in the form of relief programs and services made available through government. Federal, state, and local officials were once again called upon to become a unifying clearinghouse for information, assistance, and reassurance.
Again, it might be instructive to review how this vital, emergency relief role played out at different levels of government.
From Washington, the federal government had the most potential to coordinate and implement a standardized response with supplies, resources, and financial assistance for people, businesses, and industries most severely affected by the pandemic. Instead, there was a complete unwillingness to accept that responsibility. In fact, there was – and remains – a complete unwillingness to even acknowledge the dire threat posed by a disease for which no vaccine or antidote was available – a disease that has for months kept the United States atop the ‘most adversely affected nations’ list.
It’s no coincidence the federal government, with a Republican administration, has a ‘hands off’ approach to a genuine crisis and ignores government’s ability – and responsibility, I believe – to lead a humanitarian, helpful response. Instead, absent any empathy or federal mobilization effort whatsoever, it has fallen to state and local governments all year to serve people in that capacity.
In Connecticut, Governor Lamont’s administration has been responsive, accountable, and communicative throughout 2020. A dramatic statewide shutdown in March and April was softened in May and June as the affliction curve flattened. As a result, for many months thereafter Connecticut’s positivity rate remained below one percent, and hospitalized COVID-19 patients numbered fewer than 100.
This month, even as Connecticut’s pandemic numbers spiral upward, they remain less ominous than those in most other states. Connecticut’s more effective response again reflects a partisan ideology about the role – and opportunity – for government to provide short-term relief in dire circumstances, medium-range stimulus to provide stability, and longer-term planning to instill confidence.
Similarly, in Woodbridge, where neighbors work together to keep a small town operating efficiently, and where partisanship usually takes a back seat, it is fortuitous to have a trained Registered Nurse serving as chief elected official during a public health crisis.
First Selectman Beth Heller regularly provides updates from Town Hall, and consistently reinforces common sense, medically recommended, and proven pandemic protocols to include mask-wearing, personal hygiene, and adequate distancing.
It is a huge relief to know the nation is in the final throes of a federal administration that ignored the plight of millions afflicted physically, financially, and literally at their peril by the pandemic.
With the dawn of 2021 the prospect for pandemic recovery burns brightly, particularly in Woodbridge, where three levels of government will be aligned with empathetic, responsive leadership and a commitment to bring government resources to bear to the benefit of all those it serves.
Laurence Grotheer is the current chairman of the Woodbridge Democratic Town Committee. His experience includes more than 20 years in state and municipal government working professionally, in appointed positions, and in elected office.