Virus tolls similar despite governors’ contrasting actions

Virus tolls similar despite governors’ contrasting actions

Nearly a year after California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the nation’s first statewide shutdown because of the coronavirus, masks remain mandated, indoor dining and other activities are significantly limited, and Disneyland remains closed.

By contrast, Florida has no statewide restrictions. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has prohibited municipalities from fining people who refuse to wear masks. And Disney World has been open since July.

Despite their differing approaches, California and Florida have experienced almost identical outcomes in COVID-19 case rates.

How have two states that took such divergent tacks arrived at similar points?

“This is going to be an important question that we have to ask ourselves: What public health measures actually were the most impactful, and which ones had negligible effect or backfired by driving behavior underground?” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Though research has found that mask mandates and limits on group activities such as indoor dining can help slow the spread of the coronavirus, states with greater government-imposed restrictions have not always fared better than those without them.

California and Florida both have a COVID-19 case rate of around 8,900 per 100,000 residents since the pandemic began, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And both rank in the middle among states for COVID-19 death rates — Florida was 27th as of Friday; California was 28th.

Connecticut and South Dakota are another example. Both rank among the 10 worst states for COVID-19 death rates. Yet Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, imposed numerous statewide restrictions over the past year after an early surge in deaths, while South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, issued no mandates as virus deaths soared in the fall.

While Lamont ordered quarantines for certain out-of-state visitors, Noem launched a $5 million tourism advertising campaign and welcomed people to a massive motorcycle rally, which some health experts said spread the coronavirus throughout the Midwest.

Both contend their approach is the best.

“Even in a pandemic, public health policy needs to take into account people’s economic and social well-being,” Noem said during a recent conservative convention.

Lamont recently announced that he is lifting capacity limits at retail stores, restaurants and other facilities, effective March 19. But bars that don’t serve food will remain closed and a mask mandate will continue.

“This is not Texas. This is not Mississippi. This is Connecticut,” Lamont said, referencing other states that recently lifted mask mandates