Trump is not the only Republican who must be held accountable. Without ample testing, governors do not know how widely the virus has spread, the true infection rate or the risks posed by relaxing stay-at-home orders. None of that appears to bother Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who initially delayed closing beaches statewide. “Florida’s governor on Friday gave the green light for some beaches and parks to reopen if it can be done safely,” the Associated Press reports, “and north Florida beaches became among the first to allow people to return since closures because of the coronavirus. [Jacksonville] Mayor Lenny Curry said Duval County beaches were reopening Friday afternoon with restricted hours, and they can only be used for walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming, taking care of pets and surfing.”
How are local officials and ordinary people to know what is safe? Absent widespread, reliable testing, we have to wait until cases spike, hospital admissions soar and more deaths are recorded. There not only isn’t data showing whether it’s safe to go back out, but also some indicators suggest this is a poor time to lift restrictions. According to news reports, more Florida residents were diagnosed Friday than in any time during the past two weeks. The state Department of Health on Friday reported 1,413 new cases of covid-19, the highest number since 1,330 people tested positive on April 3.
The Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, also is rolling the dice. While Abbott plans to keep schools closed through the end of this academic year, he issued executive orders allowing retail stores to open next Friday “to operate retail to-go.” State parks are set to reopen even sooner, though visitors will be required to cover their faces and maintain a distance of six feet from non-family members, and groups of more than five will not be permitted. Texas’s ban on elective surgery will also be loosened. Overall, the numbers of cases and deaths in Texas have been modest compared with those in some states, but there are thousands of cases in Texas’s more populous counties (Harris, which includes Houston; Dallas; and Travis, which includes Austin). What’s the infection rate in these counties? Unclear. And that’s because — you guessed it — we don’t have extensive testing. And the country does not have widespread testing because Trump refuses to do his job. (“With the number of the covid-19 tests hovering at an average of 146,000 a day," The Post reported Friday, "businesses leaders and state officials are warning the Trump administration that they cannot safely reopen the economy without radically increasing the number of available tests — perhaps into the millions a day — and that won’t happen without a greater coordinating role by the federal government.”)
Could Trumpers protesting in crowds without masks, Floridians heading for beaches and Texans visiting parks in metropolitan areas spark new outbreaks, leading to more hospitalizations and deaths? Quite possibly, yes. Those who congregate for protests or recreation endanger not only themselves but also others. Elderly Americans and those with compromised immune systems (including from cancer treatment and heart and lung disease) remain among the most vulnerable. What is most disturbing, however, is how little Republican leaders and their cult followers seem to care about protecting life. Some in the self-proclaimed pro-life party are being anything but protective of innocent life.