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Guest view: Apply lessons learned from COVID-19 to next emergency response

Guest view: Apply lessons learned from COVID-19 to next emergency response

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After this historic COVID–19 pandemic recedes into history, and it will, what will America, and especially Montana, learn from it? What will the people of Montana and America expect when the next pandemic arrives? The answers to these questions must be answered correctly or else the damage done to us all will take decades from which to recover.

Regardless of one’s political spectrum, the response to COVID-19 has been flawed. In today’s environment, everything takes on political aspects, and consequently, people support views complementing their politics. Whether our governments overreacted or did not take the virus seriously enough is yet to be determined. The loss of life has been a tragedy, and everyone agrees that some of them were unnecessary. And it is indisputable that the damage to America — economically, psychologically, emotionally, and environmentally — has been extensive. But every disaster provides a learning opportunity, and COVID-19 provides us the chance to enhance those things that worked and correct those that did not before the next pandemic, which may be even more destructive.

Many people look to the federal government during any emergency, and in the early days of the crisis, there was a role providing emergency hospital beds, airlifting and distributing personal protective equipment, and providing a financial safety net for those thrown out of work and for our small businesses forced to close. But President Trump wisely understood that the most important step government could take was to unleash the private sector and then get out of the way by cutting the red tape and bureaucracy that often stands in the way of rapid mobilization.

In Montana, many different businesses came forward with a “can do” spirit. They retooled their factories overnight to produce much-needed medical supplies, including complex machines like ventilators. They developed and deployed tests that enabled doctors to diagnose patients and to help businesses keep employees working safely. Businesses adjusted their operations to deliver food and other goods safely to people working and sheltering at home. At the end of the day, it’s not a government mandate that made these solutions happen, it was the spirit of American enterprise.

American industrial ingenuity comes in many forms, and it’s being shown right now with our pharmaceutical companies. They are bringing forward the treatments which are helping us save lives and the vaccines which will eventually put an end to this pandemic. Many companies are putting up massive investments into finding solutions. While some research support comes from government, the vast majority comes from the earnings of the companies themselves. They are taking risks because they believe in the power of the free market.

Several pharmaceutical companies have committed staggering quantities of money to research the virus and develop a vaccine. This fast-tracking is not possible because of some government policy, but because of the flexibility of modern American ingenuity and entrepreneurship. Such creativity is not possible anywhere else except in the capitalistic free market. Such markets encourage and reward innovation, risk-taking and hard work.

Big government socialistic systems are stagnant entities that frustrate and burden the very people they are supposed to help. The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder to us all that a strong and innovative private sector is the key to America’s success in good times as well as in times of crisis. As we evaluate various plans for recovery, let’s ask ourselves if the proposals will make our businesses and their workers grow stronger or will they make government bigger. Getting that answer right will make all the difference in our recovery.

Rep. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, represents House District 8 in the Montana Legislature. 

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