Localities get it done in crisis

Published 6:20 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2020

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The strength of federalism has rarely been more evident than during the past couple of weeks.

As coronavirus began its inevitable intrusion into this country, there was a notable absence of direction at the federal level. The President and political advisors closest to him spent weeks declaring that this was no big deal. It would soon disappear as fast as it came and might even have been politically inspired.

Thankfully, those comments were set aside during the past week as national health officials were given the freedom to talk candidly about what the World Health Organization has declared is a pandemic of major proportions. A national emergency was declared and federal resources were beginning to be employed.

While the nation was waiting for the lumbering giant on the Potomac to get its act together, however, governors, city councils, school boards and other front line government agencies and officials at the state and local level were acting quickly as they saw the need to do so.

Using the “divided sovereignty” that our Founding Fathers envisioned, these state and local leaders employed the authority available to them and began taking steps to protect their residents as the first cases appeared within their borders.

At the end of last week, Governor Ralph Northam ordered all schools in the state to close for two weeks, and local officials moved immediately to comply. They had no choice in that decision, but the thing that impressed me was the speed with which Isle of Wight officials, among many, developed plans to ensure that families who depend on schools not only to educate, but to feed, their children would be served during the closure. By Monday the county announced that parents could pick up meals for their children on a “drive through” basis at the schools, and county workers are now actually delivering meals to low-income communities.

Nor was education put on hold. Teachers sent students home with stacks of books and homework and as this was being written on Monday, county teachers and central office staff were working on alternative methods of learning for temporarily-homebound students.

  And as federal health officials were increasingly giving Americans the unpleasant facts of how voracious this virus will likely be, local churches, civic clubs and other organizations reacted responsibly and with appropriate caution. One activity after another was cancelled or indefinitely postponed.

Local business also reacted quickly. Restaurants took steps to protect employees and customers in their establishments and announced on their Facebook pages plans to deliver “take-out” orders at the door and, in some instances, even home delivery.

A lot has been written and said recently about the tendency of people, driven by fear, to become self-centered during epidemics, and there is no question that contagious diseases have frightened us throughout history. From the days when lepers were banned from society, through the centuries when various plagues caused people to lock out their neighbors, humans have become naturally self-protective in times of peril.

But times of crisis can also bring out the best in us, and Americans are showing those signs now. From educators to medical professionals to police officers and grocery store clerks, those whose services are needed to keep our community operating are doing their jobs with determination and goodwill.

Whether it takes a few weeks or months for this virus to run its course, Americans will get through this and will come out of it stronger, and hopefully more unified than we’ve been in quite a while.