ICYMI: As COVID-19 Pandemic Hammers the U.S., GOP Governors Refuse to Implement Precautionary Measures, Preaching “Personal Responsibility”
“This really demands a coordinated, orchestrated, higher-level response than just saying to an individual person, ‘Here’s what you might want to try.’”
New models predict there could be nearly 400,000 COVID-19 deaths if the U.S. doesn’t implement any new COVID-19 restrictions, and more if states continue to ease measures.
And yet, instead of implementing mask mandates and other life-saving, common-sense COVID-19 policies, GOP governors – like Missouri’s Mike Parson, North Dakota’s Doug Burgum, South Dakota’s Kristi Noem, and Tennessee’s Bill Lee, Georgia’s Brian Kemp, Florida’s Ron DeSantis, and Iowa’s Kim Reynolds – are continuing to rely on “personal responsibility.”
That approach is clearly not working – in fact, public health experts specifically blame the “overreliance on personal responsibility” as “one of the reason’s America’s struggle with the coronavirus has been so destructive, with more than 8 million cases and at least 219,000 people dead.”
Another thing that undermines the “personal responsibility” approach: GOP governors and candidates are not practicing it themselves.
Parson attended countless large-scale public events without a mask, and then contracted the virus himself. Noem boarded Air Force One even after she knew she had been exposed to COVID-19. DeSantis, while maskless, high-fived Trump supporters at a campaign rally in Florida. And Montana gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte has refused to get tested for the virus or cancel public campaign events after being exposed to the virus at a superspreader event.
Moving forward, public health officials recommend “a coordinated, orchestrated, higher-level response than just saying to an individual person, ‘Here’s what you might want to try.’”
Read more about GOP governors’ refusals to implement life-saving policies and overreliance on personal responsibility below.
With cases surging to new highs and hospital capacity running low, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum teared up describing a state “caught in the middle of a covid storm.”
To weather it, he said at a news conference last week, people would need to keep their distance, wear masks and avoid gatherings. But the one thing North Dakota did not need were legal limits on reckless behavior.
“It’s not a job for government,” Burgum (R) declared.
The novel coronavirus is hammering middle America this fall, with records shattered daily in states that had escaped the worst of the pandemic this spring and summer. Case numbers also are rising again in other states where the virus was thought to be under control after months of widespread illness.
Yet even as health authorities in small cities and rural towns plead for help in tamping down deadly outbreaks, many Republican governors are resisting new measures to stop the spread. Some are even loosening rules already on the books.
Instead, they preach the mantra of “personal responsibility,” insisting that government interventions such as mask mandates or business restrictions are either unnecessary or harmful, and that people should be trusted to make their own decisions about how to keep themselves — and each other — healthy.
“This is a job for everybody,” Burgum said, describing recommendations for safe behavior, but no new requirements.
Public health experts say that is an inadequate prescription, one that carries great peril as infections climb, the weather drives people indoors and large segments of the population are proving less willing to take the virus seriously.
“This really demands a coordinated, orchestrated, higher-level response than just saying to an individual person, ‘Here’s what you might want to try,’ ” said David Aronoff, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
An overreliance on personal responsibility, health officials say, is one of the reasons America’s struggle with the coronavirus has been so destructive, with more than 8 million cases and at least 219,000 people dead. And they maintain it is unlikely to be the solution now — especially as Republican leaders from President Trump on down send misleading messages and model dangerous behavior.
Republican governors have mimicked aspects of that stance. While Democratic governors in blue states such as New York, New Mexico and California have rolled back reopening plans in response to rising coronavirus rates, the opposite has been true of Republican leaders in red states where the virus is now running rampant.
Coronavirus hospitalizations in Iowa have regularly hit new highs this month, and the state last week surpassed 1,500 total deaths. But Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has refused to revisit her decision to lift most restrictions on businesses and to allow students back to class without masks.
Trump, the Republican said, was “right. We can’t let covid-19 dominate our lives.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), meanwhile, has forged ahead with plans to reopen bars, despite the fact that infectious-disease specialists say they are a prime vector for coronavirus transmission. The state has been averaging nearly 5,000 new cases and nearly 100 deaths each day. But Abbott said he saw no reason Texas would not “be able to reopen 100 percent.”
Noem has become a star in Trump’s circle by joining in his antagonism toward mainstream scientific opinion: She is one of the few governors who refused to issue a stay-at-home order in the spring, has repeatedly questioned the validity of using masks to reduce viral spread and hosted the president for a massive, tightly packed Fourth of July celebration at Mount Rushmore.
The state’s struggles now, critics say, are the inevitable result of a failure to take the virus seriously.
When Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee lifted his few remaining restrictions at the end of September, leaders of the Volunteer State seemed to think they had brought their coronavirus outbreak under control.
“Tennesseans have learned how to assess risk and how to take the right steps to protect themselves and those around them,” Lee (R) said at a news conference at the time.
Two weeks later, however, cases are surging once again. Lee is quarantining after exposure to an infected security staff member. And experts say the state’s struggles should be a lesson that the pandemic requires constant vigilance — and an aggressive response.
“You can almost follow the timeline as for when things got loosened and when the spike came,” said Alex Jahangir, a physician who chairs the Nashville Metropolitan Board of Health. He also noted it would be “very helpful if the state would reimpose some of the stuff they had before.”
Tennessee, for months, largely has left it in the hands of local leaders to set rules concerning the pandemic. Masks, for example, never have been mandated by the state; instead, Lee has signed orders allowing counties to set policies of their own.
The result has been a messy patchwork of protections, with rules that vary depending on geography.
South Dakota may be the “land of infinite variety,” as the informal motto goes. But “it would be helpful if we were all linking arms and doing this together. Folks are confused. Folks are tired,” Wendell said. “And when you have mixed messaging, that’s challenging.”