AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – When Texas began to lift restrictions on the corona virus, Republican Governor Greg Abbott was not wearing a mask. He wouldn’t let mayors take extra precautions during one of America’s fastest reopen attempts. He pointed out that the White House supported his plan and ensured there were safe ways to get out.
Two months later, a sharp turnaround unfolds as the infections increase.
The kickback is not just in Texas, where Abbott abruptly stopped the push to ease more restrictions and now urges people to stay at home. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, also a Republican, did the same, declaring the state “on pause” as hospitals accelerate capacity.
As an alarming revival of the coronavirus sets records for confirmed cases and hospitalizations in the southern and western US, governors are retreating to measures they once opposed and in a more urgent tone.
“I think they should,” said Dr. Mark McClellan, former head of the Food and Drug Administration. “It doesn’t take most people in a community who get sick to overwhelm healthcare systems.”
Critics believe that the actions are too little, or worse, may be too late as patients fill up on intensive care beds and the U.S. moves closer to reaching record highs for confirmed cases every day.
And governors aren’t quite bothering about their decision: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who until recently had rarely worn a face covering, has said he won’t impose state-wide masking orders or delay the reopening. And Abbott says shutting down the Texas economy is a last resort.
The escalating crisis is putting governors to the test – many of them Republicans aggressively reopened to most of the U.S. – as pressure builds on their major cities, health experts and even friendly corporate groups. Any step backwards could put them at odds with President Donald Trump, who has tried to fight the virus and return to the campaign stage, while refusing to wear a mask in public.
A June study from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research says many Americans have never fully embraced the reopening efforts underway in many states. A majority of Americans are still concerned about engaging in COVID-19, and significant stocks still support the kind of public health restrictions that states have rolled back.
The most widespread face in GOP states is a sudden openness to have local authorities mandate masks – a concession that cities, including Phoenix and Little Rock, Arkansas, quickly put into practice, but are increasingly criticized as inadequate as the outbreaks rage .
In Florida, which has reported more than 5,000 new cases in the past two days, DeSantis has resisted calls to mandate masks and left that decision to local leaders. The Republican states that areas that are not so badly affected do not have to bear the same burdens.
Add to this the political perspective of restraining restrictions less than two months before Republicans descend to the state in late August to rename Trump. The Republican National Committee has granted Jacksonville the convention. Trump got confused with North Carolina Democratic Governor over social distance restrictions that threatened to dampen his party.
The number of cases in Duval County, home of Jacksonville, has skyrocketed, along with the number across the state.
“It is not political. You are in a situation where the whole reason the softening was done was to flatten the curve so that the hospitals were not overwhelmed, “DeSantis said last weekend.” We did not know 100 percent what would happen. ”
Florida representative Donna Shalala, a former Secretary of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration, called on DeSantis to make a course correction.
“He followed the leadership of the President and that is why people died,” she said. “He can turn and take very strong steps.”
In Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson has urged people to cover their faces and even starts showing his daily briefings through his mask. But the Republican governor has resisted calls to demand them, arguing that it would be difficult to maintain in a rural state.
Hutchinson also says he fears such a mandate could cause a backlash, with people refusing to wear masks. Some cities have acted alone and he says he will not get in their way.
“How do you encourage people to wear a mask?” Hutchinson said this week. “I think we’ll get it by giving the guidelines.”
In Arizona, Ducey resisted the pressure to close restaurants when the virus first spread in March, saying the state did not see explosive growth like New York and shouldn’t act as aggressively. Democratic mayors of Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, and elsewhere imposed their own restrictions.
The governor responded with an executive order that closed restaurants in counties with known coronavirus infections, as well as certain business cities that cities could not limit, such as golf courses.
Ducey changed her mind last week. Under extreme pressure to act as COVID-19 cases, Ducey empowered local leaders to demand masks while not making it a state-wide mandate.
The numbers “continue to go the wrong way,” Ducey said Thursday.
Associated Press writers Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas; Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Florida; and Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this report.
Follow the AP virus outbreak coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
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