By Tirzah Duren
Calculating the exact number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. has proven difficult, making the impact of the pandemic an evasive and often subjective matter. As of February, an algorithm developed at University of Texas Southwestern estimates that 21.5% of the population has been infected. This number is almost triple previous estimates.
However, as high as Covid-19 case count estimates may be, they pale in comparison to other statistics pertaining to our response to the pandemic. At the peak, roughly 94 percent of Americans were under lockdown orders. While complete data is unavailable, according to Yelp.com data over 163,000 businesses were temporarily closed, and almost 100,000 of those closures will be permanent, with roughly 1,000 of the permanent closures located in the Philadelphia area.
But this overwhelmingly strict response to the pandemic hasn’t only hit businesses. It has perpetuated a mental health crisis that affected one in four Americans prior to the lockdowns.
According to the authors of a new study from Yale, not only has the pandemic increased pre-existing stressors, but the policy response eliminated many of the ways we cope, such as social interaction and access to mental health services. The result has been a staggering increase in depression. Around 11 percent of the US population reported feelings of depression before the pandemic, but over the last year those numbers jumped to 42 percent. Additionally, 38 percent of school-age children in Pennsylvania reported similar feelings.
This overwhelmingly strict response to the pandemic hasn’t only hit businesses. It has perpetuated a mental health crisis that affected one in four Americans prior to the lockdowns.
The policy response to the pandemic is focused on one crisis at the expense of two others: a nationwide mental health toll and a significant economic recession. And for some, deteriorating mental health is a far greater concern than infection.
From the beginning of the pandemic, it has been clear that certain populations face a higher risk of complications due to Covid-19 than others, specifically the elderly and those with a pre-existing condition. Despite this, the policy approach has not been targeted to help those people and has even neglected them. In Pennsylvania, for example, relief funds were not only improperly allocated, but nursing homes claimed that they were illegally withheld.
With multiple crises raging and individual risks varying, Gov. Wolf’s uniform, statewide response was the wrong strategy. Individuals, businesses, and local governments should have been allowed to weigh their varying risk factors. At the very least, this year-long pandemic response should have been subjected to multi-branch oversight instead of solely relying on the governor. Lawmakers attempted to rein in Wolf’s emergency orders through legislative actions, but he too often vetoed them.
Luckily, Pennsylvanians will get the chance to decide for themselves whether future governors can, without input from anyone else, implement such all-encompassing measures for indefinite periods. Two constitutional amendments that are on the May 18 primary ballot will rein in the executive.
Pennsylvanians will get the chance to decide for themselves whether future governors can, without input from anyone else, implement such all-encompassing measures for indefinite periods.
Voting “Yes” on the amendments will limit a governor’s emergency declaration to 21 days unless extended by the General Assembly—and give the General Assembly the ability to end an emergency declaration. In essence, these amendments will not impede the government’s ability to quickly respond to an emergency but will ensure that the response has additional oversight.
The needs of Pennsylvanians battling Covid-19, mental health disorders, and unemployment are as diverse as the state itself. Uniform, statewide mandates are not the solution to these varying crises, and individuals should be able to weigh their risk factors for themselves. The two constitutional amendments on the ballot will provide much-needed oversight to unilateral declarations.
Tirzah Duren is a policy analyst at the Commonwealth Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @tzduren.