Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journals on August 16, 2021.
Leaders are supposed to make decisions based on facts. At times, however, some political leaders make decisions based on what they perceive is politically advantageous for their careers, even if it harms their citizens.
Governors Scott Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida have issued anti-mask edicts. Both states have low vaccination rates and are experiencing an exponential increase of Covid-19 Delta variant cases. Hospitals in these states are exceeding capacity and the ability of staff to treat patients is becoming strained as more people come down with the disease. Two hospitals in the Houston area set up tents to handle the patient overload.
On Aug, 9, The New York Times reported that Dr. Esmaeil Porsa testified to the Texas state legislature, saying, “If this continues, and I have no reason to believe that it will not, there is no way my hospital is going to be able to handle this. There is no way the region is going to be able to handle this. … I am frightened by what is coming.”
An Axios article on Aug. 10 headlined, “Pediatric Covid hospitalizations soar” paints a troubling picture. Quoting Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., “The states that have the lowest vaccine rates are the states that we have outbreaks and the states where we have people overwhelming the hospital system. There’s a clear and direct correlation. It’s not a confusing picture.”
In an interview on CBS News’ Face the Nation on Aug. 8, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson admitted that he regrets signing a bill that prohibits mask mandates in schools to protect against the Covid-19 Delta variant. When asked why, Hutchinson said, “Facts change, and leaders have to adjust to the new facts and reality of what you have to deal with. When I signed that bill, [Covid-19] cases were low, but it roared back with the new Delta variant. … It was an error to sign that law, I admit that.”
Hutchinson continued, “The legislature didn’t act this week [to rescind the bill] so the courts stepped in and held that act unconstitutional. Now we have local flexibility for schools to make decisions to protect [their] children based upon the unique circumstances of their district.” As a leader, Hutchinson did the right thing. He changed his position to protect the citizens of Arkansas.
To date, Abbott and DeSantis continue to staunchly defend school anti-mask mandates, ignoring the rapid spread of the Delta variant in their states. Both Texas and Florida have some of the highest Covid rates in the nation.
Due to their obligation to protect their children, a number of local school boards in Texas and Florida are ignoring the anti-mask mandates of both Abbott and DeSantis. DeSantis has threatened to withhold paychecks from school officials who defy his anti-mask mandate.
There are people across many demographics that oppose masks and/or vaccinations because they don’t trust advice from federal government leaders or infectious disease experts. They will only be convinced by opinion leaders they trust. If Abbott and DeSantis were to proactively support masks and vaccines, it would make a significant difference in stemming the pandemic in their states. We have the weapons to fight this war against Covid-19. Let’s use them.
One of the primary responsibilities of CEOs is to keep their people safe in the workplace. The responsibility of Abbott and DeSantis is the same – to keep their citizens safe. Leaders are supposed to lead. It’s time for them to do so.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.