How States Have Responded to COVID-19

Anvi Kasargod, Sports Editor/Reporter

As the global pandemic of the novel coronavirus continues to ravage the nation, states have taken different approaches to deal with the virus. While some governors have implemented aggressive measures, others continue to neglect the issue. Among those who have taken an aggressive stance against COVID-19, California stands at the forefront. As of April 24, the first known U.S. death of the virus was Patricia Dowd, a 57-year-old woman from San Jose, Calif., who died on Feb. 6. 

The onset of COVID-19’s spread in the Bay Area led Santa Clara County public health officer Sara Cody to examine the number of cases in the county in relation to those in Italy. After Cody compared the growth curves of Santa Clara and Italy, it was apparent to her that the county would follow the same fate as Italy if early action was not taken. Cody then implemented early measures by banning large gatherings of people, and Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., later followed by mandating statewide stay-at-home orders on March 19 making California the first state to do so. 

Newsom prepared for the surge of cases in the state by authorizing the construction of makeshift hospitals and locking down 4,613 care sites to help decompress the state hospital system. Newsom proceeded to lend ventilators to other states in need and brought back repatriated flights from overseas. 

California was also top among other states for its share of workers with paid sick leave. California’s early action was vital in dealing with the virus and flattening the curve of cases. Its early action is the main reason that the state has been relatively successful compared to other states in dealing with the crisis.

Like California, other states that took aggressive action in dealing with the outbreak include Rhode Island, Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York and New Jersey.  Gov. Larry Hogan, R-Md., formed a multi-agency strike force to provide support for nursing homes and long term care facilities that were inundated with cases. Maryland has also implemented a stay-at-home order, asked for ventilators, and ordered 500,000 tests from South Korea. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich.,has also taken an aggressive stance on implementing stay-at-home orders and has signed an executive order to protect residents and employees at long-term care facilities.

Gov. JB Pritzker, D-Ill., implemented an early stay-at-home order and prepared the state by expanding the number of hospital beds. He also designated space at a Chicago convention center to build out more beds as hospitals experienced a surge of patients. He has been in contact with Gov. Inslee in Washington and Gov.  Andrew Cuomo in New York for information on dealing with nursing home crises, leading him to set up a strike team  to deploy at nursing homes with proper PPE to detect COVID-19 positive and negative individuals and quarantine infected ones. 

As death tolls rise in each state, the importance of publicly displaying this data is becoming increasingly important, especially for Americans seeking transparency from leaders on their decisions about social distancing measures. States such as New York, Ohio and Illinois announced that they will be publicly reporting the number of coronavirus deaths at individual facilities.

 The work of Democratic governors such as Newsom, Cuomo and Gretchen Whitmer as well as Republican governors such as Mike DeWine and Larry Hogan have shown the ongoing pandemic transcends partisan politics. It is a matter of life and death, and it has become evident just how vital early and decisive action is to saving American lives. 

While certain states have been taking an aggressive stance on their coronavirus response, other states have decided to neglect the issue.

Gov. Kay Ivey, R-Ala., did not  issue a stay-at-home order until April 3, when the state had already reached more than 1,500 cases and 21 confirmed deaths. Similarly, as the state of Arkansas nearly hit 1,000 cases, Gov. Asa Hutchinson insisted there would be no stay-at-home order and overtly blocked all counties in Arkansas from initiating their own measures. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds, R-Iowa, is convinced there is no reason for a stay-at-home order, despite the fact that the state has already hit more than 1,899 cases, 20 percent of whom are healthcare workers. The medical board begged for a stay-at-home order, but the governor still refused. The lack of aggressive initiatives created more problems for the state, including 166 positive coronavirus cases  among workers at the Tyson Foods meatpacking plant in Columbus Junction. 

As hospitals fill up in Nebraska, forcing the state to transport patients to other hospitals for relief, the Nebraska Crossing Outlet Mall is considering reopening and disregarding social distancing measures implemented by other states.

Georgia and Kansas have also been inefficient in mandating stay-at-home orders and Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., declined to shut down beaches and take more severe measures to deal with the crisis. 

The Washington Post writes, “Florida is registering some of the biggest increases in cases of the novel coronavirus in recent days,” and has reached 7,000 cases but is just now implementing a statewide stay-at-home order. 

DeSantis mentioned he was waiting for orders from the White House for guidelines on implementing such measures. However, President Trump did not provide any information about the importance of mandating a stay at home order. 

 Gov. Brian Kemp, R-Ga., was also late to implement stay-at-home orders, not doing so until April 3. Though Kemp extended the shelter-in-place through April 30, he made the controversial decision to reopen Georgia beaches, overriding local coastal governments orders to keep beaches closed. 

This demonstrates the lack of federal action in response to the pandemic. There is no national testing strategy currently set in place and states are running their own coronavirus tests due to a lack of guidance from the federal government. 

There has also been no federal mandate of a nationwide stay-at-home order, resulting in certain states being able to neglect such measures and endanger residents’ lives. 

Additionally, President Trump has been prioritizing the economy over public health  by mentioning plans to reopen businesses soon, despite the number of coronavirus cases and deaths growing rapidly each day. 

In addition to these catastrophic failures by the federal government, they have also failed to provide states with proper testing kits and PPE. There have also been reports from sources claiming the federal government apprehended PPE that was designated for and paid for by specific states and confiscated these essential materials as they were being delivered to said states.

It is evident that competent leadership is crucial during this time of crisis, and better coordination between federal and state governments continues to be essential for dealing with the pandemic. In the meantime, however, measures taken by certain states have saved countless lives that would have otherwise been lost at the hands of the federal government. 

In terms of plans for the future, the World Health Organization released a six-step criteria for what needs to happen before businesses can reopen, and the first, most important step begins with controlling the transmission of the virus. The second step is that hospital capacities are in place to detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact of the coronavirus.

 The rising death tolls and overloaded hospitals are visible indications that the country is far from reaching step one of the six-step plan and is in no position to be considering reopening businesses this early. As more and more individuals die each day from COVID-19 and the national health care system continues to be overworked, it is important to consider that ignorance and underestimation are not strategies when it comes to dealing with a global pandemic. Mindfulness and greater understanding from elected leaders as well as ourselves will be of utmost importance in the months ahead.