After two years of people living under emergency lockdown orders, a new Johns Hopkins study found that the government’s preventive measures did almost nothing to save lives.
The data gathered on the lockdowns, which the study defines as “the imposition of at least one compulsory, non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI),” suggests that these measures reduced COVID deaths by only an average of 0.2%. Shelter-in-place orders were also found to be ineffective, reducing the mortality rate by only 2.9% on average.
While masks and stay-at-home orders had virtually no impact on preventing deaths during the pandemic, they did result in devastating social and economic costs—confirming what many already suspected. But those voices went mostly unheard.
When the pandemic began, governors rushed into action, using their emergency powers to implement mandates they believed would slow the spread of the virus. In those early days when we knew very little about COVID, the temporary orders made some sense. Schools were closed, events were cancelled, and non-essential businesses were forced to close their doors until we “flattened the curve.”
This presented a burden on businesses owners—especially small business owners—who immediately lost their streams of income and with it, their ability to provide for themselves and their families. They were also forced to sit idly by while their employees endured the same struggles.
Eventually, as the crisis continued, some businesses were allowed to reopen, but strict rules dictated how they could operate and on what scale they could do business.
But who had the authority to determine which businesses were essential and which were not? And who was setting the terms for the partial reopening of business?
It wasn’t the state legislatures—the bodies responsible for making laws. No, the power to dictate how businesses operated during the pandemic was claimed by just one entity: governors.
With this power, governors had the power to decide, as entrepreneur and author of the book The War on Small Businesses, Carol Roth, put it, “who was essential and who was ‘non-essential,’ who was going to thrive and who was going to fight to survive.”
This might have made sense at the very beginning, when the situation was uncertain. But the emergency orders lasted long after the initial uncertainty was over, and often they made little sense.
Mindy Trindle is the owner of Trindy’s, a restaurant and bar in Georgetown, Kentucky. Smaller than a chain restaurant, the restaurant has the capacity to seat 60 guests.
As Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear began to lift COVID restrictions, restaurants were allowed to reopen, but bar seating was off limits.
Eleven of Trindy’s seats are at the bar. That may not seem like a lot for bigger restaurants, but for smaller establishments like Trindy’s, missing out on 11 customers every hour or so takes a huge toll on sales and jeopardizes her financial livelihood.
Mindy began to fear for her business’ future, especially with no end to the emergency orders in sight.
She was not alone.
Ted Mitzlaff runs Goodwood Brewing Company, which has three locations across Kentucky.
To stay afloat during the winter months of COVID, when indoor dining was illegal, Ted put tents with heaters outside, which cost him about $100,000. While it was a necessary investment to keep his business afloat, it struck him as odd that diners were permitted to eat outside in fully enclosed tents, but it was illegal to sit inside a well-ventilated restaurant.
In addition to the rules against bar seating, Kentucky implemented arbitrary curfews. First, restaurants had to close at 10:00 p.m., then 11:00 p.m., then midnight—because apparently you can catch COVID only during certain times of the day.
With COVID rules constantly changing, business owners often did not know when they were breaking the law. But whether they were aware or not did not prevent them from being fined and penalized by the state.
Pacific Legal Foundation helped Goodwood and Trindy’s challenge Beshear’s abuse of emergency powers.
Kentucky was not the only state with absurd and ever-changing emergency regulations.
When New York City began lifting its restrictions, the criteria for the reopening of indoor dining were preposterous.
As author Roth explained:
“If you were a bar and you serve food, then it’s okay for you to open up … but then if you serve chips, it wasn’t enough, so you had to serve dip. As if the dip magically prevented you from getting COVID.”
While many governors were unwilling to relinquish their emergency powers, Governor Beshear’s attempts to commandeer the role of the legislature were particularly concerning.
Eventually, when the Kentucky legislature sprang into action and passed legislation to rein in the use of emergency powers, Beshear responded by suing the legislature.
This was a blatant attack on the separation of powers, to be sure. But what can you expect when you give the executive this kind of power?
When power is vested in just one person, tyranny ensues. To prevent that from happening, our system of separation of powers assigns each of the three branches of government specific duties with checks and balances to make certain each stays in their lane.
But the emergency powers given to governors allowed them to rule by fiat, without any debate or discussion of any kind. And once governors got a taste of that power, few were ready to give it up without a fight.
In Beshear’s suit, the agreed with our substantive arguments on the commonwealth’s emergency-powers laws and their restrictions on the governor’s emergency powers, securing a huge win for the restoration of separation of powers,
With the governor’s emergency powers now limited by the legislature, it’s likely the Goodwood case will not need to proceed.
As governors continue to justify extending their emergency powers under the guise that doing so saves lives, the Johns Hopkins study has provided solid proof to the contrary.
If legislatures had been doing their job by voting on COVID restrictions after the initial emergency was over, things might have been different. The people’s representatives may not have voted to impose restrictions that hurt businesses and employees while doing little to stop the virus.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that national emergencies are not an excuse to ignore the separation of powers. And as the crisis subsides, and new information is revealed, we should take heed and remember that protecting checks and balances is important not only in today’s crisis, but for any future crisis that may emerge.