8. The spreading of coronavirus cases, with positive testing for COVID-19 in multiple counties in the state, especially in the north, led to serious adoption of three-week orders to shelter from March 18, as more counties joined Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara, the later being the seat of Silicon Valley, and a site of early awareness of dangerous ties to Wuhan; positive testing in Sonoma, even if Mendocino and Lake contained no cases or instances of known coronavirus infection, were quick to adopt sheltering in place strategies:
Why did the rest of the country lag behind?
The problem of a lack of coherent national policy to a major health care crisis reflects the wholesale rejection of a public health crisis in the executive office. Indeed, the questioning of local decisions’ constitutionality within the White House and right-wing commentariat raises questions of the presence of any agreement on shared conventions for limiting social distancing–the Vice President and President alike refuse to don face masks in public appearances, as if mocking the need to take precautions.
The topography of enacting local policies of social distancing across the nation in coming weeks was modulated in a linguistic re-dimensioning of urgency. The lack of a confident platform to agree on the nature of such restrictions opened up immediate fault lines in the nation. Terminology shaped the topography of danger: the mapping of infection that has led California to declare “Shelter in Place” across the state on March 19 faced by statistical dangers and the absence of national policy morphed into top-down “Stay at Home” orders in Ohio (March 22), which were presented as Governor DeWine reminded constituents that his “order” is “a reasonable order,” depending on compliance to work: “If everybody does this we’re going to save a lot of lives.” The gubernatorial decrees were cast as more restrictive than beneficial in Tennessee, Ohio, and Colorado, however, as states presented “safer at home” advisories, disdaining capitals. Even as Florida’s Ron DeSantis followed with his own “Safer at Home” modulation April 3, he did so after dragging his feet in the tourist-dependent state, seeking exemption for houses of worship from churches to synagogues, in ways that will undercut the fundamental need to restrict large gatherings.
The southern states adopted limited policies of questionable efficacy. Lexical modulation led Kentucky’s Andy Beshear to issue a “Healthy at Home” order March 26, banning out of state travel March 29, as if to isolate the state, and imposed a 14-day quarantine on those who do, if he acted late in the day; “Stay at Home Missouri” began April 3; Oklahoma’s Gov. Keven Stitt limited its “Safer at Home” order only to older residents two days earlier; South Carolina, last in the nation, issued a “Home or Work” order April 6.
Governors primarily insisted on their own ability to interpret the data, given the absence of a national policy. The absence of authority at the top left them delegated explanatory roles, suggesting a profound disconnect of the nation from world, truly bizarre, more like a horror show, as we come to perceive global pandemics in tribal terms. How healthy can that be?
The perspective encouraging such fragmentation of safety guidelines is nourished by the Narcissist-in-Chief who prepares the nation without any sense for responsibility, and has been nourished his the 2016 election, to a certain extent, endorsing social media news feeds as more legitimate than a national newspaper, and refusing to wear a mask in public. The non-binding guidelines of “social distancing” Trump suggested in mid-March address to the nation was couched in such terms of benign neglect to encourage the proliferation of individual responses to the novel coronavirus reinforced tribal lines. T he Deseret News, in Utah, seemed almost proud of not having toed the line, and adopted “Stay at Home” policies, using the data from the New York Times to note that their Governor was content to issue a “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive, seeking to approach the emergency in a more “positive note”–as his Republican supporters felt it should be locally erected, and not a “one size fits all” policy—even if the virus could spread to all communities. Was Utah even ready for the sort of stay-at-home orders imposed elsewhere?
Deseret News didn’t thing so, and seemed almost proud of its alleged independence in this graphic, suggesting the bold color gold of an independent vision from a muzzling of access to public space:
Fox relished emphasizing such divisions across the nation, and broadcast them as a sign of disparity and dissensus, making us know what states refused to let their residents have fun, offering a map utterly removed from any statistics, infection rates, eerily akin to an electoral map:
The restrictions on restaurants, many of which closed for dine-in options, and now either emptied and limited to to-go orders, and facing the fear of no service tips or need for service employees, with a small range of states allowing reduced seating–split the nation in an eery diagonal, for the most part, with, by March 23, according to Brookings, a less fractured nation before the virus’ spread, to be sure, but also intense hold-outs, fearful of facing economic closures–including many counties in Arizona, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, and Missouri –that suggest a more complex picture than the “Fox” image of the same date. Was the network trying to raise hope among constituents in the greyed out states, and make restrictions seem an over-reaction of a coastal elite? The divergence in visualizations of the same time is disquieting, and profound.
Limiting non-essential outings were taken as occasions to throw the infographic back at the readers, with the understanding that some folks had come up with the edicts with no sense of personal needs or work habits–cultivating a false populism through sloppily oversimplified maps in late March, as this March 23 visualization that sought to curry a push-back on the decrees of avoiding non-essential outings. Questions on the table from “What does it mean for horse-people?” to “Can boarders exercize our athletes?” for those owning barns were a premonition to the feeling that these folks don’t appreciate how much our economy depends on going outside:
The adoption of such guidelines–or advice–have prompted strong calls for “resistance” and “opening up” in the following months, even as models for the results of doing so would bring a huge growth of social contacts that would allow the novel coronavirus cases to potentially rise.
Others seemed to be upset with such a “lockdown” of the nation, as if it were an infringement on rights that those who devised them did not grasp, as by the end of the first week of April, the nation seemed frozen in response to COVID-19: