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Editorial: Biden's sweeping new COVID policies need better communication, implementation
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Northeast Georgia Health System holds their first COVID-19 vaccine clinic Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, NGHS Corporate Plaza for those 65 and older. - photo by Scott Rogers

Nine months into his administration and after more than 21 months watching COVID-19 ravage the country, President Joe Biden may have an intelligent strategy for bringing the virus under control, but if so, he’s doing a lousy job of communicating to the public what he’s trying to do.

Two federal initiatives over the past week make it obvious that the president and his people need some help in making the great unwashed who live outside Washington’s political beltway understand what it is he is doing.

Last week, the president made a number of sweeping announcements related to mandatory vaccinations and testing but offered little to explain how any of the things he proposed would actually happen.

The president ordered that vaccines or weekly testing would be mandated for the personnel of any business employing more than 100 people but didn’t say how any such mandate would be enforced, how it would deal with those employees with legitimate reasons not to be vaccinated, how businesses were supposed to handle employees who refuse the mandate, or how such a potentially massive program of testing would be viable.

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According to the Biden administration, the OSHA wing of the federal Department of Labor is supposed to be working on rules and guidelines needed for following the presidential decree. It would have been nice to have had that done before the president panicked employers across the nation by issuing an ultimatum without guidance or details.

Similarly, the president boldly said that all medical facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding would have to implement a vaccine mandate, totally ignoring the fact that many, like our local hospital, are already desperately short staffed, and that forcing termination of existing employees when none exist to take their place is likely to exacerbate, rather than improve, the current health crisis.

The president’s announcement was sweeping in its scope, including mandatory vaccines for employees of all federal contractors, mandatory vaccines for Head Start staff in local schools, increased COVID testing in schools and financial initiatives meant to provide additional funding for small businesses (as though the government had funds to give), but it was sorely lacking in the sort of details that the public needs to know in order to understand what the government is trying to do, why and how.

Given the level of misinformation relative to the crisis since the beginning, we need that now more than ever.

The administration further compounded its “failure to communicate” with the subsequent announcement it was stepping back in to control the distribution of monoclonal antibodies.

The antibodies have proven effective in lessening the severity of COVID-19 cases and helping those infected stay out of hospitals. Earlier, the government had handled distribution of the antibodies, but more recently medical facilities had been able to order the needed treatment directly from distributors. Now the government is again going to be in charge.

The change was announced with little explanation or rationale, giving birth immediately to rampant speculation as to motivation and conspiracy theories that ranged from saving the treatment for certain classes of people to intentionally allowing some states to suffer so as to make Republican governors look bad.

The government explanation for taking over distribution was that it wanted to ensure equitable distribution.

In a misguided attempt to look “forceful and in charge” the president and his administration have taken a heavy-handed approach that is long on dictating terms and short on explaining why.

That’s not good for anyone, ever, but especially not at this stage of a pandemic that has resulted in every increasing doubt about the government’s ability to consistently implement fact-based decisions that make sense.

Some of what the president has decreed in recent days is almost certainly headed to the courts for review, so it may be weeks or months before we know for sure whether implementation is going to be forthcoming.

We still firmly believe the best way to beat COVID-19 is for the most people possible to be vaccinated.

We believe that whether a private business forces employees to be vaccinated or tested is a decision for the business to make.

Mandates without enforcement are impotent, and announcing them without explanation and detailed plans for implementation is an exercise in poor leadership and a lack of respect for the American people.

At a time when the foundation of our economy is cracking due to a lack of an adequate labor force, expecting business entities, or medical facilities, to terminate employees in mass for whom they have no potential replacements is not a viable solution.

Biden’s approach seems to be “do it because I said so, and don’t ask questions,” which is sadly reminiscent of his predecessor’s interpretation of presidential power.

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