Gov. Gina Raimondo deserves a great deal of credit for her handling of the pandemic. In the earliest and most anxious days of the crisis, she was a strong, steady, reassuring presence helping to guide Rhode Islanders - a marked and most welcome contrast
Gov. Gina Raimondo deserves a great deal of credit for her handling of the pandemic.
In the earliest and most anxious days of the crisis, she was a strong, steady, reassuring presence helping to guide Rhode Islanders – a marked and most welcome contrast to the unconscionable denialism and lack of leadership coming from the White House.
The governor’s administration produced results, too. For some time, Rhode Island stood out nationally as a success story, a place where a decisive response – led by robust public health measures – curbed the spread of the coronavirus and averted worst-case scenarios.
We know well, of course, that the story changed a bit late in 2020. As a new, even stronger COVID-19 surge engulfed the nation, the Ocean State was no longer the positive outlier. Indeed, Rhode Island topped lists of the worst hotspots in the world, its hospitals pushed near the brink as the curve bent upward.
Certainly, a number of factors – some beyond anyone’s control – contributed to the reversal in the state’s fortunes. The state’s population density, its large percentage of older residents, its proximity to major urban centers in Boston and New York – all have made our state particularly vulnerable to the virus throughout the pandemic.
We must also acknowledge the fatigue factor – that after months of social distancing, Rhode Islanders, like all Americans, simply cannot, or will not, maintain the same degree of vigilance.
Fatigue has also been evident in the response of Rhode Islanders to the governor and her messaging on the crisis.
As Raimondo noted from the stage of The Vets in Providence last week, there have been 125 formal COVID-19 briefings since March of 2020 – at one point held daily, then twice weekly, and for some time now, just once a week. Given the sheer amount of time and information involved, it’s unreasonable to expect people not to tune out to some degree – not counting those of us in the news media, of course.
But at times, the governor has rightly drawn criticism for the nature of the message itself. For example, we recall the briefing several weeks ago in which she chastised some local school districts for opting to stick with distance learning, using eye-catching language she later sought to soften.
On balance, we feel Rhode Island has been fortunate to have Raimondo in the governor’s office during such a trying time. Agree with her decisions or not, she has fully embraced the mantle of leadership while balancing a wide range of priorities and challenges. There have been failures, for sure, but no one would have navigated such circumstances without some shortcomings.
All of this made it most disappointing that the governor, now incoming President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce, has not answered questions since before Christmas. Last week, appearing for the first time alongside her soon-to-be successor, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, she addressed the media for several minutes – largely touting her own record on the economy – before departing the stage. She left Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott – who has also shone during the crisis – to answer reporters’ questions.
We congratulate the governor for her selection as a member of the Biden administration. As McKee said, it is a point of pride for our state to have a local leader called upon by the president of the United States. We also congratulate McKee, who has a most daunting task ahead.
But we find it extremely disheartening, after all Rhode Island has been through, for the governor to go weeks – since Dec. 22 – without taking questions or addressing the people of the state, other than through last week’s brief appearance. We understand that perhaps she is operating under the direction of the Biden team. In that case, they should reverse course and correct their mistaken directive.
As James Bessette, president of the Rhode Island Press Association, wrote in a recent statement: “People in our state, since Dec. 22, have still been infected, hospitalized and sadly, died from COVID-19, even with people, thankfully, starting to slowly become vaccinated. Businesses and people are still struggling in Rhode Island, with little clarity on what the future will hold, and elected officials addressing this with the public is crucial.”
Perhaps Rhode Islanders are ready for a new voice and a new message. Barring some unforeseen development, they will get just that.
Until then, we hope our current governor breaks her silence. Vaccines and masks may be our weapons against the virus, but it is trust and transparency that bind us together in the fight.