A set of maps published by the New York Times, showing the Coronavirus effort lagging most in America’s southern states triggered a Daily Kos post highlighting the failures of southern–mostly Republican–Goverrnors.
The list was hair-raising: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp didn’t issue a stay-at-home order for weeks, because–I am not making this up, I checked it– Kemp claimed that he had “just learned” that people with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic, a fact that has been clear and widely publicized since January. (Most recently–despite his belated “education,” Kemp reopened Georgia’s beaches.)
Texas has long supplied the rest of the country with official stupidity, and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has again lowered the bar; he has yet to provide any statewide guidance, and has left all such decisions to cities and counties.
In Alabama, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey pointed out that her state is “not California” (we’ve noticed) and declared that she’s not ready to take any action that might hurt the economy. (I guess lots of people dying doesn’t hurt the economy…)
In South Carolina, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has been unwilling to do more than issue “recommendations” without any force of law.
And Arkansas now enjoys a position that may be unique in the nation: Not only has Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson refused to set any level of suppression across the state, but there are also no city or county stay-at-home orders. Arkansas is open for business. And virus transmission.
And don’t even mention the idiot Governor of Florida….
Federalism clearly has its downsides.
The maps issued by the New York Times showed the degree to which compliance with social distancing had reduced travel times– reductions that have been greater in urban areas than in rural parts of the country. As Daily Kos pointed out, this disparity is at least partly because rural residents taking necessary trips–to the grocery, for example–require longer distances to get there. (One reason rural trips to the grocery require going a long distance, of course, is Walmart. In rural areas, big box retailers like Walmart long ago bankrupted and displaced local grocers.) In some rural counties, the distances recorded may reflect farming– people moving around their own properties.
But the second map in the Times set paints a blood-red swatch across the South, not in terms of their vote, but in terms of how far people are traveling on a raw miles basis. In much of the nation, even in the most rural portions of the North and West, the average distance traveled is less than two miles a day. In other counties, the distance traveled has fallen below two miles as social distancing has been implemented. But in most of the South—and not just the rural South—the average distance traveled is still above two miles. Americans in the South are getting out, getting in their cars, and traveling miles. Every day….
And that’s just the start of it. As The Atlantic makes clear, COVID-19 may have so far caused the greatest damage in the Northeast, but it’s unlikely to stay that way. Already, about a tenth of all deaths have come from the Gulf Coast states, and those states are still racing up the ramp of infection, even as states that have been under strict social distancing for days or weeks are beginning to bend the curve on local cases. The South, both cities and rural areas, looks set to be the next epicenter of the outbreak in America.
A Kaiser Family Foundation study suggests that the reason Southern states are–and are likely to remain–outliers is that more of their residents have the underlying conditions, such as diabetes and heart issues, that increase risk. Kaiser says the outbreaks currently expanding in the American South are unique— mainly because of how many younger people in their working prime are dying. They have poorer health to begin with thanks to less access to healthcare, less access to fresh produce, and higher consumption of fast foods. As the study also reports,
These differences are not innate to southerners; they are the result of policy. Health disparities tend to track both race and poverty, and the states in the old domain of Jim Crow have pursued policies that ensure those disparities endure.
The cited articles predict that much of the American South will experience “a disaster beyond imagining, and it’s one that won’t be neatly limited to those who partied on the beach or those who nod along when Rush Limbaugh calls COVID-19 ordinary flu.”
What you don’t know can definitely hurt you. What you refuse to know or admit (yes, Southern lawmakers, I’m looking at you) will hurt even worse.