“It was just a month ago when they started to have the issues in Washington state, but they brought together their communities and their health providers and they put in strong mitigation methods and testing,” said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “and you can see what the results in Washington state and California [are].”
The message seemed clear: Look at what these states have done, and emulate them.
But when it came to directly requesting that, the officials stopped short. The result is that several states still aren’t on board with tougher measures, even as their numbers are mounting and there are increasing worries that things there will deteriorate.
Chief among the holdouts, until Wednesday, was Florida.
Given the emphasis on early mitigation, one reporter asked a very logical question Tuesday: Should Florida be doing more? In that state, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has come under fire for declining to shut down beaches weeks ago or to take other, more severe measures. As The Washington Post’s Fred Barbash wrote, Florida is registering some of the biggest increases in cases of the novel coronavirus in recent days.
Neither President Trump nor Vice President Pence on Tuesday was willing to go there, though.
Trump, who is close allies with DeSantis, praised him, saying, “he’s been doing a great job in every respect.” When pressed at another point, the president gestured to the chart and maintained, “But they’re doing very well, by comparison.”
When Pence spoke, he seemed to offer a carefully worded response about why the White House wasn’t leaning on Florida harder: Trump doesn’t want to.
“At the president’s direction, the White House coronavirus task force will continue to take the posture that we will defer to state and local health authorities on any measures that they deem appropriate,” Pence said.
Despite Trump’s claim that Florida is “doing very well, by comparison,” the situation there is causing serious concern. As Barbash reports:
… [O]n the covid-19 nationwide map maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state of Florida just turned dark brown, the color signifying more than 5,000 cases. It’s now in the company of California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey as of Monday, the cutoff of CDC map data with Louisiana having crossed the 5,000 threshold Tuesday.Of those states, however, Florida is the only one that is not under a statewide “stay-at-home” order. DeSantis has urged people in Southeast Florida to remain at home and said this week he would issue a “safer at home” order codifying that advice.On Tuesday, DeSantis said at a news conference that he had no plans to issue a statewide order because the White House had not told him to do so.
In other words, DeSantis was waiting for the White House to tell him to get tougher, but the White House wasn’t doing it because, according to Pence, Trump has decided not to make such calls. It was a stalemate, in which both are pointing the finger at each other. In the meantime, the situation in southeast Florida deteriorated and big questions remained about whether allowing spring break to proceed on Florida’s beaches in March meant that the infection spread to other states once the spring breakers returned home.
DeSantis ultimately succumbed to the pressure Wednesday, issuing a statewide stay-at-home order.
But Florida hasn’t been the only state resisting tougher measures.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had left it up to local governments on whether to employ more severe measures, such as stay-at-home orders. On Tuesday, he issued an executive order telling people to go out only for essential services, but he declined to label it a stay-at-home order and exempted religious groups, among others. The order effectively overruled more-stringent local orders for churches. Health-care groups have urged him to go further. The state recorded 662 new confirmed cases Tuesday, according to a Post compilation of state-by-state data — the highest to date by more than 140.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) is also facing increased calls for a statewide stay-at-home order but has resisted them. Many of the state’s biggest counties have been taking this measure by themselves. But Missouri on Tuesday saw a near-doubling of its previous worst date for new infections, with 306 new cases.
Apart from Florida, the situation in Georgia is perhaps most acute. There, too, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) had faced pressure but left more-strict measures up to local officials, with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) issuing a stay-at-home order a week ago. Georgia recorded one of the biggest spikes Tuesday, with more than 1,121 new cases — more than double any previous day. Eventually, on Wednesday Kemp said he would issue a statewide stay-at-home order starting Thursday.
The New York Times reported Monday on how one funeral in rural Georgia appears to have spurred numerous infections in rural Dougherty County. That county of 90,000 people now has the state’s second-highest number of infections — 466 — and the most deaths, 26. More than one out of every 200 residents there have been infected. The situation illustrates the danger in declining to issue blanket orders, because you never know where more-relaxed rules might create a hot spot.
Altogether, about 75 percent of Americans are under shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders, but in many states, governors haven’t issued such blanket decrees. Most of the country that is not under such orders is rural, where there are fewer infections and governors and local officials have decided that the more-restrictive measures aren’t yet necessary. But there remain real questions about just how effective the current testing regimen is, particularly in these rural areas, meaning we may not have a true picture of how much of a problem they have and where the situation is getting bad.
Several governors have resisted stay-at-home orders but eventually relented in recent days. The message from the White House coronavirus task force seems to be that these states should err on the side of stricter measures, earlier. But as the Florida example shows, the level of emphasis matters. DeSantis on Wednesday even acknowledged that Trump’s somber tone at Tuesday’s press conference influenced his ultimate decision to issue a stay-at-home order.
Meanwhile, others are being more forceful than the White House in leaning on other states. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Wednesday asked states that still hadn’t issued stay-at-home orders, “What are you waiting for?”
“What more evidence do you need?" Newsom said. "If you think it’s not going to happen to you, there are many proof points.”
It’s also important to note the model the White House is emphasizing is predicated on all states adopting strict measures and sticking with them through June 1. To the extent that’s not happening, realizing the goal of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths will be harmed.