The country has been treated to a civics lesson demonstrating that individual states are run by duly elected governors and not the wise men in Washington, DC.
With the advent of COVID19, governors have emerged as the leaders tasked to run their states in accordance with how this really works. Governors are elected to run their states.
This is a novel idea for the media and the general population who look to Washington, DC as the font of all power. It is a natural mistake given the nature of “news” — even fake news — coverage.
Allow me to use a small example of how this works in life real:
New York, governed by Democrat Andrew Cuomo, issued a “stay-at-home” order when there were 7,000 verified cases of COVID19.
California, governed by Democrat Gavin Newsome, issued a “stay-at-home” order when there were 675 verified cases of COVID19.
I am not grading this decision, but simply noting that two fairly situated governors pulled the trigger at two entirely different times as it related to the reality of the case load.
This demonstrates the power of governors. These governors are part of a coterie of 41 state governors who have issued similar orders.
Interestingly, the governors (Republicans all) of Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming have declined to order mandatory stay-at-home.
Some individual cities within those states have, in fact, issued mandatory stay-at-home orders.
Without boring you, I point out that Wyoming has 230 confirmed cases of COVID19 and ZERO deaths. This state has a total population of less than 600,000 citizens, so there are data driven differences when compared to, say, New York with its population of 19,500,000 with about half of that located in uber dense New York City.
New York State has 151,171 cases of COVID19 and has endured 7,067 fatalities. Huge difference when compared to Wyoming.
In this instance, the governors were dealing with different geography, different levels of infection, and made different decisions — because these governors arrived at different policies as to what was the correct course of action for their state.
State Health Departments
Each state has a State Health Department, overseen by the governor through his appointed subordinates. [It seems like very few people in America were aware that states have Health Departments.]
This public health entity determines important policies as it relates to the health of the state’s citizens. Amongst those decisions are such things as the licensing of medical professionals (someone licensed to practice medicine in Kentucky cannot practice medicine in New York without getting a New York medical license, just like lawyers), the accreditation of hospitals, and the amount and holding of the state’s “attic stock.”
Attic stock is the stockpile of medical gear — masks, personal protective gear of all kinds, ventilators, other equipment — the state holds for emergencies. Some states, those who are prone to frequent hurricanes, have a very active and professional State Health Department and active management of their attic stock.
Some states, who may perceive their risk as low, have differing levels of attic stock — witness the different decisions made by governors. It is a state issue. It is a state prerogative. It is the duty of the governor to oversee his State Health Department.
In addition to State Health Departments, counties also have County Health Departments who deal with lower level issues, local issues — a lot of oversight of county Emergency Medical Systems — ambulances. They do not control meaningful stockpiles of attic stock.
Federal Emergency Management Agency
The Feds have an entity called the Federal Emergency Management Agency that provides assistance to states during emergencies. FEMA cannot inject its nose into the state’s business without being requested by the state.
This request is in the form of an application for a declaration of an emergency which must be approved by the President.
New York made application in early March and the request was approved the same day by the President.
Once FEMA is involved, the governor can ask the President to send the cavalry in the form of unleashing the Army Corps of Engineers — the chaps who converted the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City into a 3,000 bed hospital in three days.
[Back in the day, I was a member of the Corps of Engineers. When the Corps shows up, shit starts to happen. Fast. If anything stands in the way of the Engineers, they will either pave over it, build around it, or blow it up. The Corps is not playing; they are participating and when they participate they participate at full speed.]
There is a wrinkle to this — whatever aid the Feds provide, the state must pay for 25% of it. So, states may be wary to declare an emergency and get a big bill. What do you think it cost to convert Javits to a hospital? Yeah, it was a pretty penny.
Strategic National Stockpile
The Federal government has a Strategic National Stockpile which contains the first wave of additional emergency supplies which, upon request and approval, may be released to FEMA to deploy to a stricken state.
We usually see this in the form of trailer housing in big hurricanes, but it also includes ventilators, hospital beds, masks, PPE, and other things.
It is not an end all–be all source of supplies. It is not the same thing as the state’s attic stock. A state cannot simply demand additional material.
In the case of COVID19, since the entire country is stricken, the demand is broad as compared to a hurricane which may impact a hundred mile stretch of the coast. This is a very big demand v a more normal localized and smaller demand.
The Strategic National Stockpile is buttressed by the government’s ability to order more and to enact the Defense Production Act of 1950 to order the manufacture of additional supplies.
The Defense Production Act of 1950
The Defense Production Act was an outgrowth of the Korean War that empowers the Feds to order manufacturers to make war materials and other material to support the country.
World War II was won in no small part because the US became the Arsenal of Democracy. Ford Motor Company stopped auto production and began producing Jeeps the same week that the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. American industry immediately rose to the challenge. By the end of the war — three and a half years later — the Americans were producing 50,000 planes per month.
In the COVID19 dilemma, we have seen American companies rise to the occasion and produce masks, PPE, ventilators, and hand sanitizer. [Tito’s Vodka in Austin By God Texas is producing hand sanitizer. Well played, Tito!]
Bottom line it, Big Red Car
OK, here it is, dear reader.
The front line of this fight is being run by state governors. They are calling the shots.
If they are overwhelmed, they can call on the Feds to assist, but they have to make formal application.
POTUS is turning around these applications on the damn spot.
State Health Departments are on the bleeding edge of the challenge. They are responsible for their own states.
If the states need help, POTUS will send the Army Corps of Engineers — this is very real. The Corps will do it. Immediately.
POTUS is issuing assistance from the Strategic National Stockpile to states through the Department of Homeland Security.
POTUS has enacted the Defense Production Act and American industry is busting ass to produce what is needed.
Governors are not a homogeneous cross section. They think differently and they have different, fact-driven ideas. Wyoming and New York are very different.
One size does not fit all.
States are on the hook for 25% of the Federal assistance and there will be a huge fight when this is over. The states will try not to pay.
The governors are running this show on the bleeding edge.
OK, so there you have it, dear readers. There is a system. It is driven by the governors. The POTUS is not calling all the shots.
We are going to be fine, but not every governor will grade out as an A+.
Be well. Take care of yourself.