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Much of red America is finally going on lockdown.
After resisting the pleas of public health experts for days, the governors of Florida, Georgia and Mississippi — all states won by President Trump in 2016 — announced yesterday that they will be ordering their residents to stay home, effective Friday.
The turnabout from Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, was especially stark. DeSantis had previously allowed spring break vacationers to socialize on Florida’s beaches, where they likely spread the virus. Florida, of course, also has one of the nation’s largest populations of people over 65, who are especially threatened by the virus.
The new lockdowns are welcome, because they will help slow the virus. But they’re also coming much later than they should have. A big reason that the virus has recently been spreading more rapidly in the United States than in Europe or Asia is the slow response from many American political leaders.
Trump spent almost two months falsely claiming the virus was going away, and he continues to send mixed signals. At Wednesday’s news briefing, he said that some states “don’t have much of a problem.” (He’s right the caseload is only in the hundreds in some states, but it is growing rapidly nationwide.) Many Republican governors have chosen to echo him. DeSantis, for instance, acted as if he could stop the virus merely by keeping New Yorkers out of his state.
A newly published analysis by The Times finds that the states where travel declined the least last week were almost all Trump-voting states. “I saw people this weekend shaking hands with each other,” Lenny Curry, the mayor of Jacksonville, Florida’s largest city, told reporters.
The pattern isn’t perfectly partisan. A few Republican governors, like Mike DeWine in Ohio and Larry Hogan in Maryland, have responded aggressively. A few Democratic politicians, like the New York mayor Bill de Blasio, have reacted too slowly. But the pattern is nonetheless a strong one: The only 13 states that have still not issued stay-at-home orders, including Texas, were all won by Trump four years ago.
Related: Two weeks ago, about 70 students from the University of Texas at Austin ignored doctors’ warnings and traveled together to Mexico spring break. At least 44 of those students have now tested positive for the virus, as David Montgomery and Manny Fernandez report from Texas.
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Anne-Marie Slaughter of the think tank New America, in The Times: “If this crisis is highlighting our weaknesses as a nation, it is also bringing out some of our greatest strengths. In the absence of competent national leadership, others are stepping up. Governors and mayors, business owners, university presidents, philanthropists, pastors and nonprofit groups of all kinds have taken the initiative to mobilize, guide and protect those they lead and serve … Governors are leading the charge.”
Ed Kilgore, New York magazine: “The general drift of public policy in Republican-governed states is in the responsible direction — which isn’t that surprising given the proliferation of cases across most of the country — but GOP pols remain vulnerable to another backflip by Trump. His earlier mutterings aloud about wanting to simply declare the crisis over have led some of his fans to make rebelling against sound medical advice an act of ideological loyalty.”
Mark Joseph Stern, Slate: DeSantis’s “languorous approach to the outbreak allowed the coronavirus to spread silently for weeks in a state with a large population of elderly, vulnerable residents. While DeSantis dragged his feet, another Florida official took the lead in responding to the crisis. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried’s response to the outbreak stands in stark contrast with DeSantis’. A Democrat, Fried is an independently elected member of the Florida Cabinet whose duties go well beyond agriculture … On March 20, Fried called on DeSantis to shut down Florida by issuing a statewide stay-at-home order. The governor only granted her request on Wednesday.”
Bill Scher, Politico: “New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has received the lion’s share of attention, as his informative and emotive press conferences have made him an overnight national political star, albeit halfway through his third term. But his record in responding to the crisis is more complicated than the sheen lets on: his coronavirus containment policies were not the most aggressive in the country, and did not prevent catastrophe. He hesitated to close all schools statewide even as other states began to do so, and resisted a statewide stay-at-home order for a few days before relenting.”
Larry Hogan (Maryland’s governor) and Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan’s), writing in The Washington Post: “The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) needs to better coordinate the distribution of supplies based on need. Right now, there is no single authority tracking where every spare ventilator is or where there are shortages. The lack of any centralized coordination is creating a counterproductive competition between states and the federal government to secure limited supplies, driving up prices and exacerbating existing shortages.”