President Trump says there won’t be a national lockdown or mask mandate over COVID-19 but governors are cracking down, anyway, with blue states pumping the brakes on reopening and Republican governors beefing up rules or requiring face coverings for the first time.
The upshot is a patchwork of coast-to-coast mandates and closures that hearken back to the springtime shutdown while attempting to target the places where the coronavirus likes to spread, so younger students stay in school and local economies can limp along.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday issued a statewide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. It starts Thursday and lasts for 21 days, although people can still go to work or get food at the grocery store.
“Retail establishments need to be closed and people should be home,” the Republican said. “We believe that this going to help. It will reduce some of the contacts that are taking place.”
Mr. DeWine told residents to figure out ways to stay emotionally — not physically — connected, such as Skyping with friends during an Ohio State football game instead of watching it together.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, meanwhile, said bars and restaurants in Maryland would have to close at 10 p.m., starting Friday, citing a surge in cases.
States are scrambling to slash transmission as the nation approaches a quarter-million deaths from COVID-19. Nationwide hospitalizations have reached 73,000, the highest of the pandemic, forcing health care providers to create new space and scramble for adequate nursing staff.
Governors say “coronavirus fatigue” and lax compliance with safety measures are driving spikes. They want Americans to buckle down for the holidays, saying a vaccine is on the horizon so they can weather a bit more pain.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum last weekend reversed course and ordered residents to wear masks at indoor public settings and when they cannot distance from others outside. His state leads the nation in cases and deaths per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, according to a New York Times tracker.
He followed Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who issued an indefinite mask mandate and Gov. Kim Reynolds, who told Iowans to wear a mask indoors when they cannot maintain distance.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is a notable exception to the trend. A notable Trump ally, she’s resisted COVID-19 restrictions of all kinds.
Others say they have no choice, as the U.S. records an average of 155,000 infections per day and over 1,100 deaths.
Thirty-six states, plus D.C. and Puerto Rico, have some kind of mask mandate in place, according to AARP.
Former Food and Drug Administrator Mark McClellan said states might be able to pull off a targeted approach to businesses, citing restrictions on bars, nightclubs and restaurants that have led “to a significant reduction in local spread.”
“Restrictions on gatherings could be a good alternative, if done early enough, to complete lockdowns,” said Dr. McClellan, who leads the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy.
Mr. Trump is touting promising vaccines that might bring the coronavirus down to manageable levels by mid-2021. But with immunization still weeks away, he’s largely staying out of the debate over ways to mitigate transmission, instead focusing on election results that show he lost to Democratic rival Joseph R. Biden.
He’s made it clear that he won’t institute a national lockdown, however.
“As the president has said, the administration will not be pursuing across-the-board shutdowns, mandates and restrictions, which would inflict more harm on the American people than they would prevent. The cure cannot be worse than the disease,” said White House spokesman Michael Bars.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he doesn’t see the need for a national lockdown but appeared to break from Mr. Trump by saying a national approach is needed — a view espoused by Mr. Biden, although the scientist didn’t mention the leaders by name.
“We need some fundamental public health measures that everyone should be adhering to, not a disjointed, ‘One state says one thing, the other state says another thing,’” Dr. Fauci told The New York Times at a DealBook virtual conference on Tuesday.
For now, Democratic governors who’ve taken a cautious approach all along are hitting the brakes or snapping restrictions back on.
Pennsylvania tightened its rules Tuesday, telling residents to cover their faces both indoors and outdoors and requiring anyone who visits the state to get tested within 72 hours of entering.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said alarming increases across his state forced him to pull the “emergency brake” and force 41 counties — 94% of the population — into tier-one status that restricts indoor dining and other businesses.
Chicago issued a stay-at-home order and Philadelphia prohibited indoor dining at restaurants and indoor gatherings.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued a two-week “freeze” that closes gyms and limits eateries to takeout and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered a three-week “pause” that suspends in-person learning at colleges and high schools and closes indoor dining and movie theaters.
Some state GOP lawmakers say the Michigan Democrat’s gone too far. They’re calling for her impeachment.
Also, a restaurant trade group sued over Michigan’s rules Tuesday, saying they can keep their dining rooms open while slashing the risk of transmission.