As the death toll from COVID-19 continues to rise, governors around the U.S. are figuring out how to reopen their economies while still ensuring the safety of their citizens.
The White House released a three-phase plan on Thursday that would provide guidelines for when states might reopen. In a call with governors, Trump said states should begin loosening restrictions after new COVID-19 cases have declined for least 14 days. Trump has repeatedly said that testing for coronavirus is a state responsibility.
Enthusiasm for the plan varied by party. Democratic governors generally said it was far too early to provide a timeline for reopening, and they said they wished they had more testing support from the federal government. Republicans, while urging caution, were more bullish about the possibility for a swift return to normalcy.
“We appreciate their suggestions, and we will evaluate them thoroughly, but the plain overriding fact is we cannot put the cart before the horse,” said New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat. “As CDC, FEMA, and public health experts across the country have made clear, we are not at a point currently where it would be safe to reopen, and doing so prematurely would undo the heroic work of our health workers and first responders, endanger many more people and essentially guarantee enhanced transmission of the virus, leading to more illness and death.”
“We cannot do it without federal help,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, regarding fully reopening the state’s economy. Widespread testing will require supplies and hospital capacity that the state doesn’t have, he said, accusing Trump of “passing the buck without passing the bucks.” Trump responded on Twitter: “Governor Cuomo should spend more time ‘doing’ and less time ‘complaining.’ “
Washington state recently extended its stay-at-home order to early May. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee told NPR’s All Things Considered that two conditions would have to exist before the state could reopen its economy: “No. 1, we have to drive down the number of infections so they’re as close to zero as possible so that we’re very confident that there will not be a resurgence that could overwhelm our hospitals,” he said. “The second condition is we have to have a comprehensive and robust testing and contact-tracing system.”
Inslee said the state is far from being able to meet either of those conditions. The contact tracing system is dependent on being able to massively test the population to see who has been infected. “That testing capability does not exist anywhere in the United States right now,” Inslee said.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told NPR’s Morning Edition that the federal guidelines resemble the plan the state adopted the day before. But Polis said he wishes that, like other countries, the U.S. had a national testing strategy.
“Most other countries are doing it nationally,” said Polis, a Democrat. “I wish that we had more help from the federal government.” When each state is responsible for testing, he said, the states end up competing against other states for supplies — which drives prices up. “Of course it would be better to have a national testing strategy. There’s no question about that. But we’re not going to let the lack of one stand in the way of Colorado doing what’s right,” Polis said.
In North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said he appreciated the White House’s guidance, “but we still need the federal government to help with testing and personal protective equipment.”
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown echoed other Democratic governors’ call for more federal assistance. “We are still in dire need of critical resources from the federal government, including sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and increased testing capacity,” she said. “We have current, large unfulfilled order requests with the federal government for both PPE and testing materials; these are vital components to reopening Oregon and remain necessary to prevent a resurgence of the disease.”
In contrast to Democrats, the response from Republican governors was more enthusiastic. “I think the president and his team are headed in a very good direction,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. Lee said his state would use the same sort of gradual reopening strategy.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said her takeaway from Thursday’s two-hour call between Trump and governors was that the federal government is a partner. “They are standing alongside us,” Reynolds said. “If there’s anything that we need to ramp it up and get our state’s economy moving again, they stand ready and willing.” Reynolds said she was hoping to reopen the state’s economy sometime in May, if possible.
“I appreciate President Trump’s guidelines for reopening pieces of the economy that have been closed temporarily,” said Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts. “It is critical that we get people back to work safely and continue to slow the spread of the virus as the country opens up.”
Idaho Gov. Brad Little said the president’s criteria for phased opening “matches the criteria we have been using in Idaho.” The guidelines also confirm that Idaho is focused on the right areas for improvement, Little said: expansion of testing access, contact tracing, and increased health care system capacity. “Our collective efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus are working, but we have not yet seen a prolonged downward trend, as recommended by the president, to justify opening up everything at once. Until we do, we must continue to stay the course.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Friday a series of executive orders that would start to reopen shuttered businesses. According to The Hill, that makes Texas “the first state to lay out a defined rollback of COVID-19 restrictions.” Retail outlets in the state will be able to open on Friday, April 24, as long as they can deliver items to customers’ cars or homes in order to minimize contact. Texas will also loosen restrictions on surgeries, permitting procedures that “would not deplete the hospital capacity or the PPE needed to cope with COVID-19.”