April 5, 2020

State of Colorado COVID-19 Innovation Response Team, Part VII – Retrospective

(This is the seventh and final post in a series documenting the work I did in Colorado on the Governor’s COVID-19 Innovation Response Team – IRT.  Other posts in order are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.)

I’ll start the final post in this series by sharing the overview and retrospective deck that we created my last day and the two days after.  Governor Polis is going to share this with the National Governors Association in case other states are interested in our model or learnings. This pdf, which you’re welcome to download or just view in SlideShare, is a good overview of what we did and where things stood as of Saturday, March 28, noting that by the time you’re reading this post, half of it may be obsolete! 

I am normally a small government guy.  But not when this kind of thing hits. This whole thing calls for consistent national government response to the disease – potentially even global government coordination at a level we’ve never seen before (let alone the level that’s fashionable these days).  I’m not sure I’d want a Chinese style lockdown (although that may prove to have been effective), but South Korea’s pattern of learning from SARS and MERS, bulking way up on labs, reagents, epidemiologists, ventilators, etc., and then passing legislation that allows for deeply intrusive tracking in case of a public health emergency like this seems to be the way to go.  

Certainly, leaving responses up to individual states, counties, and cities is a problem.  It’s inefficient and on average ineffective, although I think our group made some extraordinary progress on a few fronts.  But the scale of the effort in an individual state of 6mm people with the associated resources just pales in comparison to what a strong federal response would be.  Of course…the federal government has to actually believe in the need for a rapid and comprehensive response and have the wherewithal to pull it off for that to work.

As for our federal government’s economic responses, that’s a different story.  At some point, the government literally won’t be able to afford to fill in the economic holes left behind by the virus (you could argue that we can’t even afford the $2T we’ve already ponied up since we are terrible at saving money when times are good and run huge deficits even then).  I’m not sure what will happen then.  

But government aside, I hope the response across the country and the world is enough to take the edge off this disease long enough for supply chains and healthcare systems to be able to properly respond.  I hope that people who have the means will continue to support local businesses and individual/freelance service providers like housekeepers, gardeners, music teachers, tutors, and coaches through this stretch, even if those people aren’t able to provide those services.  And I hope all the people who are on the ground working the problem – from frontline healthcare workers to my new friends in the Colorado state government and on the volunteer side – get the recognition they deserve for the extraordinary efforts they are undertaking to drive solutions and get everyone through this.

Special thanks to Governor Polis and his staff for the opportunity to do this work, to Brad for roping me into it and then letting me rope him into leading the private sector side, and to Kacey, Kyle, and Sarah, my new friends, for making it all work and for continuing the work after I left.