How Did We Respond?

A State-By-State Comparison

By Jennifer John, Catherine Gu

April 18, 2020

As a new disease COVID-19 savaged across the world in 2020, we are all gripped by this sudden new reality in a way we have never quite experienced before. Every state in the US is forced to respond and the result has been a patchwork of mitigation policies scraped together by a limited public health framework, under limited time. Details of the mitigation policies and their implementations will play a critical role in the months and year to come. In this blog, we dive into a state-by-state comparison. 

Most of the mitigation policies centered around stay-at-home or shelter-in-place measures issued by the states. The timeline below displays the order in which the states enacted the policies:

[As of April 13, 2020. Data source: New York Times]

California was the first to implement a stay-at-home order. The state was one of the first to report COVID-19 cases, with the first official report on January 26. California issued the shelter-in-place order on March 19 – by then, there were over 1,000 confirmed cases. Illinois and New Jersey followed two days later, and by the end of March, thirty-two states had issued a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order. As of April 12, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming have yet to put state-wide orders in place. In the absence of state directives, some counties in Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming have implemented their own orders for their residents.

While shelter-in-place orders initially received significant pushback on the ground of protecting personal liberty and the economy, governors that haven’t yet issued stay-at-home orders soon started receiving strong calls from their residents to do so. On April 3, for example, the Iowa Board of Medicine argued in a letter to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds that stay-at-home must be mandated in order to flatten the curve. The president of the Wyoming Medical Society similarly urged stricter shelter in place measures, pointing out that Gov. Mark Gordon’s social distancing recommendations have not been taken seriously. Most recently though, the mood seemed to have shifted once again, as we observe bursts of protests to “liberate” the people back to work in various states.

Yet even for the states that have implemented social distancing, the details of the mitigation policies vary widely. A main area of scrutiny focuses on the exemptions for essential activities. While grocery shopping, accessing medical services, and outdoor exercise are generally allowed, states have otherwise differed in their consideration of other important issues. For instance, a legal battle is underway in Texas, where abortion has been categorized as non-essential. Meanwhile, the federal government has declared firearm and ammunition product manufacturers to be essential workers. 

Stay-at-home policies also differ in their enforcement, and the details of which are often a subject of confusion among residents. For example, in San Francisco, a fine or imprisonment can result from violating the order, but the violation itself is considered a misdemeanor. In Michigan, fines can reach up to $1,000, and in Alabama the maximum fine is $500. In contrast, when New York’s stay-at-home order was first issued, Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not intend to give civil fines to individuals who violated the policy. By April 6, however, the maximum fine for violating social distancing had been set at $1,000. Some counties such as Erie County in New York went even further by instigating a fine of up to $2,000 on a first-time violation and $5,000 on a second-time violation. 

As many states enter their fourth week of shelter-in-place, the strain on the society and the economy is palpable. The focus towards lifting varied measures and reopening the economy has gradually started. Indeed, on Monday April 13, governors on the West and the East coasts announced partnerships to do just that. The Western States Pact, joined by California, Oregon, and Washington, pledges to “flip the script on COVID-19” by building a framework that: prioritizes residents’ health, is driven by science rather than politics, and promotes collaboration among the states. A similar coalition of seven East Coast states also intends to bring together experts in health, economic development, and policy to develop a plan for reopening regional economies. 

In the short span of four weeks, jobless claims have surpassed 20 million. Saving jobs but also continuing in saving lives will undoubtedly be one of the most pressing and yet simultaneously, the most challenging issues that policymakers will have to make. In our upcoming episode this month, we will take a deeper dive into the economic impact in America as we examine the job market and the business environment faced by many.