Rhode Island Leads the Way Gov. Gina Raimondo, of Rhode Island, Shows How Effective Competence during a Crisis Can Be

By Nocera, Joe | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), July 18, 2020 | Go to article overview

Rhode Island Leads the Way Gov. Gina Raimondo, of Rhode Island, Shows How Effective Competence during a Crisis Can Be


Nocera, Joe, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Sometimes, when I'm particularly discouraged about how the U.S. is losing the battle against the coronavirus, I daydream about how much better off we'd be if Gina Raimondo, the hard-charging two-term governor of Rhode Island, were the one leading the nation's response to the pandemic instead of Mike Pence. She has wrestled COVID-19 to the ground in her state and demonstrated ideas and resolve that could help guide the rest of the country in moving forward.

As a native Rhode Islander, I had long admired her penchant for solving difficult problems. Ms. Raimondo, the co-founder of Rhode Island's first venture capital firm, entered politics in 2010 when she ran for state treasurer. Why treasurer? Because, she once told me, she felt that her negotiating and business skills might allow her to help fix the public employee pension system, which was both woefully underfunded and taking an increasing portion of the state's budget.

She was right. In 2012, her pension-reform plan passed the legislature with bipartisan support and helped pave the way to her run for governor.

The coronavirus crisis wasn't exactly something Ms. Raimondo - or any other governor - planned for. But it very much played to her strengths. She believes that you gather good information wherever you can find it; "not invented here" is not in her vocabulary.

Thus she studied countries such as South Korea and New Zealand, which had early successes against the coronavirus, and adopted their strategies as her own. If she had been in charge of a national effort, the country would already have a much better testing system.

"I had this moment of clarity very early on, at 2 a.m. when I was working in my home alone," she told Politico last week. "There's no way you can outrun this thing. You have to stay a step ahead. That's when we said we need aggressive testing, very aggressive contact tracing and social distancing. We came to the realization earlier than some other places, because it seemed like the only way to keep a lid on the virus."

Then she would have - and these are her words, describing what the president should have done - "immediately gotten CEOs into the Oval Office early in the year, and used the Defense Production Act to mobilize all the best of what America has to offer - innovation, testing, PPE, medical products." But with the White House missing in action, she had to figure out how to mobilize with the resources available to her.

April was rough for Rhode Island, just as it was for other northeastern states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. New positive cases peaked on April 27, with 430, with a 7-day average of 15 deaths a day. By then, she recognized the importance that private industry can play in combating the pandemic.

She persuaded CVS, the state's largest employer, to partner with Rhode Island in making tests widely available. She employed the National Guard to set up drive-through test sites across the state.

Then she did something else that showed her willingness to come up with bold solutions to combat the pandemic. …

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