At the state level, no shortage of COVID-19 policies or spats

Pandemic has pitted GOP governors against state Democrats, and sometimes fellow Republicans, over appropriate response

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing pressure from Democrats to isue a shelter-in-place order for the entire state and limit all travel beyond essential services.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing pressure from Democrats to isue a shelter-in-place order for the entire state and limit all travel beyond essential services. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 1, 2020 at 6:30am

States’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have created a patchwork of policies and, in some states, opportunities for intrastate political skirmishes.

The dust-ups have occurred mostly in states where governors have let counties take the lead in imposing social distancing rules.

In Florida, 10 House Democrats wrote a letter March 25 urging Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to take statewide action in response to the coronavirus, calling for a shelter-in-place order for the entire state and limiting all travel beyond essential services, including grocery stores, health care providers and critical workers getting to and from the workplace.

Decisions about which businesses and public places in Florida can remain open have been left to local and county officials. Many public beaches remained open and were heavily used by tourists, especially young people during annual spring break festivities in mid-March. 

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., warned of the severity of the pandemic in Florida, which he noted has the nation’s highest concentration of older residents.

“Florida is at even greater risk of serious impacts on the health of our residents and burden on our health care system,” he wrote in the letter.

“We cannot wait. We cannot leave this decision to county and local governments. We need your leadership. We strongly urge you to immediately issue a statewide shelter-in-place order,” Deutch said in a tweet directed at DeSantis.

DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. When asked about a potential shutdown of all beaches at a March 23 news conference, he said he “pretty much did that” with his March 17 order limiting gatherings to 10 people or less. 

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Texas Democrats

In Texas, all but one of the state’s House Democrats penned a letter to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on March 24, requesting that he declare a statewide stay-at-home order, following the lead of some counties.

“The ranchers in West Texas deserve the same protections as doctors in Houston,” the Democrats wrote. “The farmers in Laredo are every bit as deserving of protection from COVID-19 as the bartenders in Austin. The truck drivers moving critical goods and equipment across thousands of miles of Texas roads should know that any grocery store or hospital they come to is implementing the smartest and most stringent health and safety practices possible.''

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Abbott had not issued statewide orders as of Tuesday, but he issued an essential services order directing Texans to minimize contact with others, specifically nonessential gatherings and in-person contact with people outside of the same household. He has said he remains “flexible” in issuing a statewide standard and has deferred to President Donald Trump for guidance. He noted that roughly 75 percent of the state is currently under the stay-at-home umbrella due to local orders.

Governors from other Southern states have faced similar criticism, including Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, who was recently urged by state Democrats to enact a statewide ban on “nonessential” gatherings beyond his March 24 order that applied to “vulnerable individuals” only. 

Alabama 'tsunami'

Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth and Gov. Kay Ivey, both Republicans, have engaged in a bitter fight over her plan to expand hospital capacity and the availability of personal protective equipment for first-responders and hospital staff.

“A tsunami of hospital patients is likely to fall upon Alabama in the not too distant future, and it is my opinion that this task force and the state are not taking a realistic view of the numbers or adequately preparing for what awaits us,” Ainsworth wrote in a letter to the state’s coronavirus task force on March 25. “Simply put, we have not done enough to prepare, and action must be taken now.”

On March 27, Ivey extended her previous executive order closing “nonessential businesses” statewide, and she closed schools for the rest of the year.

In Mississippi, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has also faced criticism for issuing an executive order in which he defined essential businesses that could remain open, including some that had been ordered closed by local officials.

Mayor Mario King of Moss Point, Mississippi, highlighted actions reversed by the governor, including the reopening of dine-in restaurant facilities with a 10-person limit, as well as day care centers and churches with a recommendation but not a mandate to follow federal and state health guidelines.

In a March 26 news briefing, Reeves said the executive order sets a statewide requirement to ensure “essential business” operations are maintained.

Meanwhile, states continue to enact restrictions and other steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes the disease, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association. 

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As of Tuesday, the latest data shows:

  • All 50 states and the District of Columbia have declared a state of emergency and 28 of those, including the District, have requested major disaster declarations due to the coronavirus pandemic. All but three of those have been approved by the federal government.
  • Forty-four states plus D.C. have called up their National Guard. Twenty-eight states have implemented restricted travel for state employees.
  • Every state and D.C. have implemented mandatory statewide limitations on gatherings ranging from three to more than 50 people.
  • Thirty-two states and D.C. have issued stay-at-home orders of some kind. Schools have been closed in every state and the District. All states and D.C. have closed businesses deemed to be nonessential.
  • Thirty-eight states and D.C. have extended the deadline for individual income tax filings.
  • Twenty-three states have conducted previously scheduled primary elections, 11 delayed or rescheduled primary voting, and 16 plus D.C. remain as scheduled.
  • Twenty-five states have postponed, adjourned or suspended state legislative sessions.
  • Thirteen states have issued executive orders limiting travel, with an additional eight urging voluntary limits.