Former Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips has written a series of letters to the editor about the response to COVID-19.  The letters are from the perspective of someone who was on the frontlines and in the backrooms when decisions were made that changed life for all of us.

This is the first in the series.


Dear Editor

Well, well, well. Here we go again. And again. Ad nauseum. Same song, different verse. If it wasn’t “real-life” I would put it in the category of being as unbelievable as a twisted episode of The Twilight Zone or a low-budget horror film. Unfortunately, the disturbingly dangerous attitudes and actions of far too many powerhungry control freaks have never been more bizarre and horrifying.

I humbly preface the following series of reflections with the reminder that leading up to early December of 2020, I was wrapping up my eighth year (two consecutive terms) as an elected official. At that time, I had been serving concurrently as both the chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners as well as the chairman of the Guilford County Board of Public Health for the third largest county in the state of North Carolina from the very beginning of the global explosion of COVID-19. 

I was at the “tip of the spear,” as they say, during a time when we knew the least about what was thought by many to be the deadliest virus ever known to man.  I’ll let the reader decide whether or not my insights and perspectives carry more or less weight as the result of my front-line role during the year COVID-19 reared its ugly head.

I was a part of those early internal “code red” discussions when we were all so dependent on public health and medical experts for information and guidance. Their earliest recommendations revolved around the idea that it was “better to be safe than sorry” and that “we can’t do nothing” and the mantra that whatever we did would be worth it “if we could save just one life” and that we are, indeed, “all in this together.”  It was better to err on the side of caution, they said. There should be no waiting for the situation and the facts to develop further.  Doing so would potentially cost countless lives, they told us.

Facts and data-driven information were generally absent from most thought at the time. Frankly, there were no facts. There was no data yet. At least not in this country.  There were only worst-case scenarios. When any semi-substantive information did come to light most responses vacillated between dismissive and the possible end of human-kind as we know it.  Mostly the latter. Well-meaning people were then, and are now, desperately looking for ways to protect their loved ones from harm and wanted to believe that their government and its hired hands could make things better in the long run.

Regardless of the supposed lack of overall trustworthiness for government officials previous to COVID-19, most Americans have done exactly what they would have likely said they would never do.  Citizens, by and large, have generally responded as though everything that proceeds from the mouth of government officials is sent directly from the mouth of God.  In hindsight, we now know just how wrong on almost every imaginable projection and measurable metric that our government officials have been to date. Yet, here we are two years later seemingly hellbent on repeating ourselves – governments and citizens alike – while still hoping for very different results.

Admittedly, a global pandemic was different than the everyday run-of-the-mill political issue or short-term crisis.  Or at least it should have been. Of course, none of us could have begun to comprehend or even speculate about the extent of what was to come or how to respond. How could we? The playbook has never been written and certainly had never been played out in this country – at least not in my lifetime.   But based on what’s going on with Omicron, as we speak, we have to wonder how much was learned after going through this type of virus surge cycle twice before. Disturbingly little, it seems.

I mean, after all, “15 days to flatten the curve” has now turned into two solid years with no end in sight.  Do you ever wonder when or if the merry go round will ever stop? After watching how we, the American people, have responded to constant and direct threats to our freedoms, I have grown more pessimistic about how long it may take to get our country headed back in the right direction. Surely the circus will end at some point, right? Surely, we will stop pretending that the sheer folly and ineptitude of their ways is perfectly normal and actually begin to question, speak out and resist the repeated idiocy that is being dictated by the few.

So, is there a light at the end of the tunnel?  I have to believe the answer is “yes,” but how long it takes for us to get there along with the ultimate outcome for what this country will look like for our kids and grandkids is entirely up to us. It’s not up to the fearmongers, technocrats and elected powerbrokers who quickly learned that controlling your behavior is so much easier than they ever thought possible. It’s up to you; the citizens those people are supposed to be working for. 

To be continued…

Jeff Phillips