In Ohio and Massachusetts they closed restaurants and bars, in Florida they closed beaches and at least 32 states closed schools.
The emergency measures brought in across America to combat coronavirus have all been slightly different from state to state – but for weeks they have had one thing in common: nobody was acting on guidelines issued by the federal government, because there weren’t any.
“You see a whole hodgepodge of efforts being taken across the country,” said Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, which announced a tri-state agreement on Monday with neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut on Monday to close all gyms, movie theaters and casinos.
“This state is doing this, this state is doing this, this city is doing this – it’s chaos. I think it actually feeds the feeling that the country’s out of control and there is no clear direction … This is a national problem, and we need federal leadership.”
A country of 330 million people with regional and economic diversity spanning from the tourist district of New Orleans to the frozen fracking grounds of Alaska will necessarily rely on local leadership to help meet local needs.
But one of the most powerful lessons to emerge in the first months of the global health emergency, analysts say, has been the ability of an organized national government response to slow the spread of coronavirus. China, South Korea, and Japan used mandatory quarantines, shutdowns and curfews to go from more than a 1,000 new cases per day each to figures now in the low-tens.
“You look at the countries who have handled this, I don’t care if it’s China, South Korea, Italy, they were all handled by national leadership,” said Cuomo, a Democrat. “This is a national problem. It cannot be done in a piecemeal method. You need federal parameters.”
The US federal government, by contrast, did not issue guidelines for the closure of businesses or restrictions on travel or large gatherings until Monday afternoon, leaving it up to America’s patchwork of state and local authorities to decide what rules are best.
The White House announced new guidelines in an afternoon news conference, recommending that people avoid gatherings of 10 or more and stay home if they’re sick. The recommendations said bars, restaurants and gyms should be closed “in states with evidence of community transmission” – but no state was safe from community transmission.
“It seems to me that if we do a really good job we’ll not only hold the death down to a level that is much lower than the other way had we not done a good job, but people are talking about July, August, something like that,” Donald Trump said at the news conference. “I say it washes through.”
Trump told state governors in a conference call on Monday that they should pursue the acquisition of key medical equipment themselves instead of waiting for Washington to act.
“Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment – try getting it yourselves,” Trump told the governors, according to a recording obtained by the New York Times. “We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point-of-sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”
Trump has often downplayed the coronavirus threat, calling it “mild”, saying “I’m not concerned” and promising “it will go away, just stay calm”. Asked about a shortage of diagnostic tests, he said: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”
The emergency response of the White House has seemed to be guided by concern for the hotel and cruise industries, which Trump has repeatedly promised to support, and for the performance of the stock market, which in the past weeks has crashed through a series of floors.
As a new week of struggle with coronavirus began on Monday – the first day in which many Americans either stayed home from their jobs or reluctantly attended, began home schooling or inventoried their pantries – the White House announced a news conference not for the morning but for 3:30pm, in what critics said was a transparent attempt to score a market rally in the last half-hour of trading.
In trying to stop the market hemorrhage, Trump in previous days had announced made-up federal initiatives, such as a web site engineered by Google to help people find testing locations, which the company only later, more than 24 hours after the fact, agreed to begin working on.
The Centers for Disease Control has advised people to avoid large gatherings and said anyone who has come into contact with a known carrier should seek medical advice and self-quarantine for two weeks.
In the vacuum of guidance, state governors have made rules on the fly. The Democratic governor of Illinois shut down all bars and restaurants in the state until next month. Pennsylvania announced similar restrictions, but only for certain counties. In Ohio, the Republican governor, Mike DeWine, announced statewide closures.
“We’re two days from St Patrick’s Day, when people get together and crowd into bars,” DeWine said. “We are at a crucial, crucial stage.”
The Maryland governor on Monday closed the port of Baltimore to cruise ships seeking to dock, banned evictions, mobilized state troopers, activated the state’s medical volunteer corps and announced the automatic reactivation of expired medical licenses.
The federal government, by contrast, has not yet announced moves by the defense department, National Guard, Army Corps of engineers or Veterans’ Administration – which has a nationwide network of hospitals – to help set up field hospitals, rededicate medical facilities, contract with private companies to accelerate manufacture of key supplies, maintain order or otherwise manage the expected wave of critical Covid-19 cases.
Without federal guidance, local officials have in some cases issued conflicting orders. In Pennsylvania, the governor at the weekend advised people to stay home, and the commissioner of Montgomery county, which includes the Philadelphia suburbs, told people to cancel gatherings.
But the mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney, had different advice, telling people to go out to eat, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“I would recommend you wash your hands, you stay out from within three feet of people, and go out and have dinner – and tip your waitstaff because they’re struggling right now,” Kenney said.
While school districts across California closed, schools stayed open in the district of House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, a close Trump ally who calls Covid-19 “Chinese coronavirus.”
McCarthy’s Republican colleague, Devin Nunes, encouraged people at the weekend to “go to your local pub”.
Where many Americans hear conflicting messages, Trump heard harmony.
“Everybody is so well unified and working so hard,” he tweeted on Monday. “It is a beautiful thing to see. They love our great Country. We will end up being stronger than ever before!”
This content was originally published here.