States Band Together vs. Coronavirus

By: - March 16, 2020 12:00 am

A cafe is sparsely populated at lunch hour at the World Financial Center transit hub, Monday, in New York City. New York, Connecticut and New Jersey announced coordinated coronavirus policies. John Minchillo/The Associated Press

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

With COVID-19 now in almost every state, states are beginning to coordinate with one another, if not in policies, at least in messaging.

The governors of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut Monday announced a series of identical policies regarding closures. All three are limiting recreational and social gatherings with more than 50 people. They are closing restaurants and bars except for takeout service. And they are shutting down movie theaters, gyms and casinos. All those restrictions take effect at 8 p.m.

At a news conference, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said that a coordinated response makes sense because an infectious disease doesn’t recognize state boundaries. Tens of thousands of people pass from one state to another every day in the tri-state area. Severe restrictions in one state can be undermined by looser requirements in an adjoining one.

“I close down my bars, Jersey doesn’t close their bars, everyone drives to New Jersey to go to the bars,” Cuomo said. “It makes no sense.”

Cuomo said he is not aware of states ever coordinating in this way before. “This was an elaborate undertaking because you had to align three states’ policies,” he said. “We actually adopted the same policies. I don’t ever remember this happening, period.”

Working together might become more important for states as gaps in federal preparation become even more apparent. In a conference call with a group of governors Monday, President Donald Trump advised them to figure out for themselves how to acquire respirators, ventilators and other needed medical equipment as a backstop to federal efforts.

Cuomo said in his news conference that the three Northeastern governors decided to act jointly in the absence of direction from the federal government.

“This is a national pandemic and there are no national rules,” he said. “Everything is a hodgepodge.”

Even if the federal government doesn’t order closures, Cuomo said, it should be issuing guidelines so that states are largely consistent with one another, which would give the greatest chance to limit the spread and severity of the disease.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, also emphasized the need for consistency. “The only way to effectively fight the spread of COVID-19 is by working together as states. We have shared interests, and a patchwork of closures and restrictions is not the best way forward. I know that because of this collaboration, we will save lives.” 

In other parts of the country, neighbor-states are considering similar actions.

Oregon Democratic Gov. Kate Brown said she spoke Sunday to her Washington state counterpart, Democrat Jay Inslee, whose state has the most COVID-19-related deaths in the United States. Inslee ordered restaurants and bars closed in Washington state soon after that call.

“I’m thinking about how something like this can impact Oregonians across the state,” Brown said during an extremely brief call with reporters Monday morning. The governor had suggested she was considering a curfew or temporary closure mandate in a call with journalists Sunday evening.

Secretaries of state in four states holding primaries Tuesday — Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio — jointly issued a statement trying to reassure voters who plan to come to the polls, drawing a distinction between voting and going to a concert or sporting event.

Unlike those events, in which large groups of people travel to congregate in confined spaces for extended periods of time, the secretaries said, “polling locations see people from a nearby community coming in and out of a building for a short duration.”

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Michael Ollove

Michael Ollove covers health care for Stateline. Ollove worked for many years at The Baltimore Sun, as an enterprise reporter and an editor.