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Subduing pandemic takes leadership

Connecticut, which has navigated the COVID 19 pandemic by coordinating efforts with those of neighboring states, and without much federal assistance, is offering more authority to the next level of government down: municipalities. Gov. Ned Lamont made that announcement Monday in public visits with New London Mayor Michael Passero and Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom. The state is implementing its Phase 3 reopening plans, but Norwich and New London have recently become the sites of spiking cases.

Both mayors said they doubted they would take advantage of the governor's offer to turn back from Phase 3, either because people move too easily among the region's small communities, making it of little use to stiffen the rules in a specific city; or because it comes with the need for municipal police enforcement.

Still, it is good to have the potential for a new strategy against the local spike, which officials have said seems to be mostly arising from social gatherings rather than in workplace or school settings. The mayors may want to keep that arrow in the quiver.

Towns, the state and the country need every option that becomes available to leaders as pandemic numbers rise steeply in many places. No less a voice of science than the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine has called for leadership in an editorial chillingly titled, "Dying in a Leadership Vacuum."

The journal argues that the United States entered this crisis with the advantages of the world's finest biomedical research system, innovative and proactive public health systems and the prevailing, widely respected counsel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, lack of leadership on the federal level squandered those resources and forced states to manage as best they could. Acknowledging that some COVID deaths would have been inevitable in any circumstances, the editorial says that least tens of thousands more Americans died because of failure to lead. The journal doesn't use the term "hubris," but that is what this amounts to.

The journal's editors departed from precedent by taking a position on a political election, but they are physicians sworn to do no harm. And harm is what they see. The editorial says there must be a change in national leadership or the United States will unquestionably suffer thousands more deaths than it otherwise would.

Everything else pales before an emergency that threatens all in its path: a hurricane, a wildfire or, as we now comprehend in a way we never did before, a pandemic. Behind each of those acute crises follow chronic losses of jobs, homes, health, safety and confidence.

An article signed by Republicans running for the state General Assembly in southeastern Connecticut districts appears at the same time as this editorial. The candidates, some of them incumbents, are right to remind us that their mandate is state-level and includes issues that were once Connecticut's most pressing: ballooning state debt, low pay in nursing homes, state labor contracts, and a better balance to the long history of one-party, Democratic rule in the legislature

They do not wish to be judged by the fact that they belong to the same party as the president. They don't claim it, but most of them have demonstrated the kind of reasonable and honorable approach to their public service that Donald Trump appears neither to comprehend nor to value.

Yet for them and all who are running for election this year on state and national tickets, one issue should crowd out all others: the president's failure to lead the country back to public health. Calling him out is a matter of conscience for doctors; why not for candidates who hope to lead?

On the day that the presidential election is finally decided — whether that's Nov. 3, 4 or days afterward, when millions of absentee ballots prompted by the pandemic are finally tabulated — if the current president is still in office, what will change? Why would anything improve? 

It does not have to be this way. With the policies of the Trump presidency, it will be this way.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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