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5 governors bragged about their virus response. Now they're seeing cases spike

The latest coronavirus data from two states shows that their governors’ approach did not work.

By Josh Israel - May 15, 2020
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Pete Ricketts

Last week, five Republican governors published an opinion piece in the Washington Post under the headline, “Our states stayed open in the covid-19 pandemic. Here’s why our approach worked.”

The latest coronavirus data from two of those states shows that the approach did not work.

“While our specific approaches may differ, we have all kept our states ‘open for business’ and delivered food and other goods Americans need during this pandemic,” wrote Mark Gordon of Wyoming, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, and Mike Parson of Missouri. All but Parson were among the seven governors who refused to issue statewide “stay-at-home” orders, even after Surgeon General Jerome Adams urged the nation to stay home to curb the pandemic.

“We knew it was critical, even as the coronavirus has spread, that our state economies keep moving. Agriculture, energy and manufacturing are the backbone of the Midwest and Great Plains,” the governors added, though they acknowledged that they “did have to close pieces” of their economies “temporarily.” They claimed that their states “have simultaneously ranked low in terms of infection rates and deaths.”

But according to the nonprofit data site USAFacts, Iowa and Nebraska have actually had a relatively high number of coronavirus cases per capita. Iowa’s 13,675 COVID-19 cases amount to 433.4 confirmed infections per 100,000 residents. Nebraska’s 9,262 cases comprise 478.8 confirmed cases per 100,000 residents. Those rates are higher than California’s (189.5 cases per 100,000), North Carolina’s (157.4), Ohio’s (225.5), Virginia’s (325.9), and those of most other states.

According to the Cedar Rapids-based Gazette, the week ending Wednesday marked “the deadliest seven-day stretch since the virus first was confirmed in Iowa,” with an average of 12.4 deaths every day.

Indeed, from May 5, the day the governors’ op-ed was published, through May 13, Iowa confirmed 3,585 new coronavirus cases, according to the New York Times. This is more than a quarter (26.2%) of the total number of cases in the state to date.

Nebraska recorded 2,952 new cases during that period. That is nearly a third (31.4%) of the 9,416 cases the state has confirmed so far (the New York Times’ case total for Nebraska varied slightly from the data at USAFacts).

Ricketts and Reynolds both defended their refusals to issue stay-at-home orders in April. Ricketts said that such an order was unnecessary for Nebraska, arguing “as we look at the data we are seeing that we are different from other states.” Reynolds dismissed the idea as a “divisive issue at a time when we must be united in our response to this crisis.”

Some states that took a more aggressive approach to social distancing have been phasing out restrictions in recent days. Several, including Texas and Tennessee, have already seen spikes in the number of new coronavirus cases since they lifted stay-at-home orders.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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