The novel coronavirus is hammering America’s heartland this fall, with records shattered daily in states that had escaped the worst of the disease 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 218,000 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.
Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, sent Trump to the hospital for four days this month, with doctors deploying the latest therapeutics — drugs unavailable to many Americans. Yet he has continued to cast doubt on the effectiveness of masks while maintaining that people should not be “afraid” of the coronavirus and bashing public health measures intended to limit viral spread.
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