The Governor of New York announced today an effort to minimize the spread of coronavirus in his state – a quarantine period for visitors from high-risk areas, to be undertaken in coordination with the states of New Jersey and Connecticut. This is a grave misstep, and will indirectly lead to many more deaths.
The problem doesn’t stem from the notion of a quarantine period itself. It is a useful tool and has been demonstrated to reduce direct transmission; diminished travel, which is a direct market result of quarantine, also decreases transmission rates.
The problem stems from Cuomo’s continuation of the existing politicization of the virus.
This is a known problem, and it’s one which was started, in the US, at the Presidential level. Immediately after the virus became known, President Trump began a campaign of ignoring or downplaying the dangers. Much of the Republican party backed him on this stance, particularly talk radio and television punditry. The result has been far too many people who are traditionally Republican voters who have refused to take the virus seriously.
Many Democrats took the contrary position, which defaulted in favor of public health. They stand to make gains at the ballot box in part as a result of their stance on the novel coronavirus.
When the first significant outbreaks occurred across the country, some Trump-favoring people decided to frame the disease according to the voting trends. As caseloads and deaths rose in New York, New Jersey, Washington, California and Massachusetts, it became common to hear it referred to as a “blue state disease.” Some states, Florida in particular, were urged to ban or quarantine travelers from New York.
It is completely understandable that, as caseloads have dropped in many Northeast states, New York’s leadership would be open to the idea of “returning the favor”. The problem comes from the mechanism by which they’re doing so.
The official standards for the travel restrictions are simple: they would apply to any person arriving from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents, or a state with a 10 percent or higher rate over a seven-day rolling average.
The states on the travel restriction list are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington. With the exception of Washington, they are all “Red States”, and the notion of the restrictions having a political component comes into play because of one very prominent exclusion: California.
California has been seeing a dramatic rise in its caseload, with a new state record – 6,419 new cases – reported yesterday. It has been averaging well over 4,000 cases per day for the last week, which is above the 10 per 100,000 requirement in California’s 39.5 million population.
California is not only a prominent “blue” state with many electoral votes, but it is also an economic and agricultural powerhouse. As much as people may focus on Hollywood or Silicon Valley, California is critical to much of the food production in the country and its ports process most of the equipment coming from Eastern nations. Angering Californians, or even restricting their travel and risking the trade that comes along with it, is a dangerous proposition.
By keeping them outside of the restrictions, though, it sends two messages, both of which are deeply flawed.
It indicates that there is, in fact, some validity to viewing this disease politically. Nothing could be further from the truth. The disease doesn’t care whether it’s in a “red state” or “blue state”, whether people have contracted it from time in a church or time at a protest. It will infect where it has the opportunity to do so. That is arguably the most important lesson to learn about the virus, as only after that basic truth is understood have various countries been able to successfully halt the transmission.
It also indicates to Californians, very unwisely, that they are in a better position than other states. That message will be ignored by people who are in one of the heavily hit areas like Los Angeles, but it will be accepted by all too many in the areas where the disease has not yet spread. Before yesterday’s record of 6,419 new cases? They had 5,813. By comparison, the three states which have been getting the most attention have had: (Texas) 4,760 & 5080 new cases on the 22 & 23; (Florida) 3,494 & 3,286; and (Arizona) 2,101 & 3,630. Arizona’s outbreak is by far the worst when factored as a percentage of the population, but that’s not the point; the point is whether California’s numbers put them in the same category as Texas and Florida. They do. (Numbers taken from a source Cuomo would normally believe, the New York Times.)
By framing this politically and by bolstering a false sense of security which has taken root among many Californians, Cuomo is making the situation worse, not better.