Temporary closed signage is seen at a store in Manhattan borough following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New York City, U.S., March 15, 2020.
Jeenah Moon | Reuters
State and city leaders across America took aggressive action Monday to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, closing restaurants and movie theaters, telling residents to shelter in place, ordering people not to stand too close and urging residents against leaving their home state.
Without meaningful federal intervention, local leaders adopted what New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called a “hodgepodge” of actions across the nation to contain the outbreak, which has spread from roughly 100 U.S. cases on March 1 to more than 4,200 people across nearly every state by Monday. More than 70 people in the U.S. have already died from the new coronavirus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Across the globe, COVID-19 has infected more than 181,000 people and killed more than 7,100 of them.
Following a more than 10% drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average last week, U.S. President Donald Trump tried to calm the nation on Sunday, telling Americans to “relax” and not hoard food. “There’s a very contagious virus, it’s incredible, but it’s something that we have tremendous control of,” Trump said at a White House press conference. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued revised guidance shortly after Trump’s comments, urging people across the U.S. to cancel or postpone events with 50 or more attendees for the next eight weeks.
On Monday — as the Dow plunged by another 13% — Trump told Americans to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, discretionary travel and eating in restaurants and bars. “Right now, we don’t have an order, one way or another. But I think it’s probably better if you don’t especially in certain areas,” Trump said, admitting that it may take until at least July or August to turnaround the pandemic in the U.S. The White House may consider lockdowns for certain “hot spots” around the country, he said, but not a full national quarantine.
The mixed messages have sewn confusion in the markets and across the state lines, forcing state and local officials to take matters into their own hands, they’ve said.
Citing “a lack of federal direction and nationwide standards,” the Democratic governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut said Monday they agreed to jointly reduce density throughout the region, closing movie theaters, casinos and restaurants and limiting public gatherings to fewer than 50 people.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison, a Republican, discouraged unnecessary out-of-state travel, saying almost every one of the state’s 22 COVID-19 cases stem from out-of-state travel. “In every instance of a case we’ve had except one in Arkansas, it’s been preceded by out-of-state travel and people coming back,” he said at a press conference Monday.
‘Shelter in place’
San Francisco Bay area officials ordered 7 million people to “shelter in place” starting at midnight Monday night in what appears to be the most stringent move in the nation yet to contain the outbreak, which has spread to 335 people in California and killed six.
Residents there can leave their homes only under “limited circumstances,” according to the order. People who venture out are expected to remain six feet apart, wash their hands, cover their coughs or sneezes and abide by a number of other requirements. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday directed bars, nightclubs, brewpubs and wineries to close and asked Californians over 65 to stay indoors — a move endorsed on Twitter by former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Governors in Maryland and Washington state, which has the second-highest number of cases behind New York but the nation’s most deaths, followed suit with similar actions.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday he signed an emergency declaration temporarily shutting down bars and restaurants statewide. He also banned public gatherings of more than 50 people.
“Never since World War II have we faced a situation like this,” Inslee said. The state has 904 confirmed cases and 48 COVID-19 fatalities, according to the state health department. “For the next several weeks, normal is not in our game plan.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, announced similar measures later Monday, signing an order to immediately shut down all bars, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms, allowing for carryout dining and “essential services,” including pharmacies, banks, gas stations and grocery stores.
No clear directives
“These emergency orders carry the full force of the law and will be strictly enforced,” he said at a press conference. “We are marshaling every tool in the arsenal of public health to combat this crisis and slow the spread of this pandemic.”
As president of the National Governors Association, Hogan said he was on the group’s conference call with Trump earlier Monday. Governors are leading the nation’s containment efforts in the absence of “clear directives” from the Trump administration, he said.
“While the federal government has had some guidelines, which are changing, they have not given clear directives,” he said, according to the Baltimore Sun.
During the video conference with the governors’ group, Trump reportedly suggested they obtain their own medical equipment that’s in short supply as the nation faces an explosion of respiratory infections with the pandemic.
“Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment – try getting it yourselves,” Trump told the state leaders, The New York Times reported, citing a recording of the conference call.
Cuomo has frequently called on the Trump administration for help. He was one of the nation’s first governors to take dramatic action to contain the outbreak, deploying the state’s National Guard to New Rochelle last week and setting up a containment zone around a hot spot of cases in the Manhattan suburb. There are 950 cases in New York — more than any other state — 220 of those are in Westchester County where New Rochelle is located and 463 are in New York City, according to the most recent data from the state health department.
‘Every option, every tool’
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is considering imposing curfews and travel restrictions. “We’re considering everything … every option, every tool is on the table,” he said at a press conference Monday.
Trump got into a Twitter spat with Cuomo after the governor’s call Monday, saying Cuomo “had more work to do.”
Cuomo’s been critical of the Trump administration’s pandemic response, saying it has “been behind from day one on this crisis.” The New York official said he sent a letter to Trump asking him to deploy the Army Corps of Engineers to the state to help build temporary health facilities. When Cuomo responded to Trump on Twitter on Monday, the governor said he’d be “happy to do your job, too. Just give me control of the Army Corps of Engineers and I’ll take it from there.”