States of emergency

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 17th of March, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Last week President Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic.

That move allocates federal aid up to $50 billion to help states fight back. Bureaucratic restrictions are loosened so healthcare providers can do what they need to do.

REICHARD: Over the last two weeks, nearly every governor in the country has declared a state of emergency at the local level. That means state officials can set curfews, mandate quarantines, and cancel public gatherings.

WORLD reporter Paul Butler has a story now on the different state responses to the COVID-19 health crisis.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: When President Trump declared the national state of emergency on Friday, a handful of states had already issued emergency proclamations. That gave them legal standing to make a wide range of executive decisions regarding public safety and health. 

The nation’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 occurred in Snohomish County, Washington, on January 20th. Five weeks later, on February 29th, a man died in King County, Washington, becoming the first U.S. death related to the virus. That same day, Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency.

INSLEE: So our priority now is to slow the spread of this dangerous virus. 

Inslee also reminded residents they all have a part to play in minimizing the impact of the virus. 

INSLEE: Everyone can be a leader in this effort. In fact, some of the most important leaders are all across the state of Washington—are not in public office. And the reason is, we can succeed in this, if we make our decisions based on calm confidence and a sense of understanding, that we are all in this together.

Within days, other states quickly followed suit: including California, Maryland, Utah, and Pennsylvania. On March 6th, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear announced his state’s first case of COVID-19.

BESHEAR: While the overall risk to Kentuckians is still low, we as a state will take every necessary action to protect our people. So about 5 minutes ago I filed a state of emergency so that we would have every tool that we could need to address this issue, and ultimately, to protect our people. 

As of Monday, every state but West Virginia had reported at least one case of the virus. 

Early on, most states began by issuing guidelines for voluntary quarantines, social distancing, and minimizing exposure by restricting group activities. Here’s New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on March 8th.

CUOMO: We are trying to contain the spread of the virus. Basically we want to reduce as much as possible situations creating density. 

Large churches around the country responded by cancelling services or moving them online. Collegiate and professional sports teams closed their stadiums to the public. Couples cancelled weddings, and families delayed funerals.

What began as voluntary compliance, soon became mandatory. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, from March 12th:

WOLF: For Montgomery County, I am ordering the closure of all schools, community centers, gyms, and entertainment venues. This includes Y’s, theaters, sporting events, concerts, and I’m strongly recommending the closing of non-essential retail facilities. No mass gatherings should be held, including conferences, and rallies. By closing these facilities we can control the spread of the disease. 

Hoboken, New Jersey, Mayor Steve Fulop took it a step further, ordering people off the streets by 10pm.

FULOP: We’re going to put a curfew in place for larger night clubs…

By the end of last week, most states had either extended Spring Break or cancelled school until at least the end of March. Here’s Alabama Governor Kay Ivey speaking Friday.

IVEY: All public K-12 schools across the state will have a two and a half week break…

Most state universities are moving to online learning for the next few weeks. Some have even cancelled the rest of the semester. 

But COVID-19 is most dangerous for older patients. So many governors, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis, have introduced restrictions for visiting nursing homes and other care facilities.

DESANTIS: At the end of the day, this is a virus that does not threaten all segments of our society equally. The folks that are most at risk for this are folks who are elderly, frail, or have a serious underlying condition. So we want to do all we can to prevent this virus from affecting those communities who are most at risk from it.

On Saturday, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper was visibly frustrated by the many not taking the guidelines seriously. 

COOPER: As you know, we issued this as guidance on Thursday. However, despite this guidance, several venues continued their events. So today’s order makes that mandatory. This is a risk we cannot tolerate. 

Many states like Massachusetts, Nevada, and Illinois have prohibited eating in public. With Trump’s suggestion yesterday for limiting groups to 10 people or less, and California’s “shelter in place” edict for some of their counties, it’s likely that many other local governments will soon follow their lead.

In the midst of it all, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon encouraged his state’s residents to think of others in very practical ways in the days and weeks ahead.

GORDON: I’m also hearing concerns from our communities that there are a lack of cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. I ask that you be respectful of others in your community as you are stocking up. Some of our most vulnerable residents are unable to get into our communities and must rely on others to bring supplies.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Paul Butler.

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, Pool) Washington Gov. Jay Inslee addresses a news conference about the coronavirus outbreak Monday, March 16, 2020, in Seattle.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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