California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday laid out rough benchmarks for reopening his state’s economy -- and radically reshaping daily life in the process -- as he tried to bring other states into his West Coast coalition to fight the new coronavirus.
The move came as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has marshaled a group of seven Northeastern states, sparred with President Donald Trump over who has final authority to lift stay-at-home orders and restart the U.S. economy. And in the Midwest, another group of states is considering its own unified effort.
The flurry of activity was a remarkable example of ad hoc confederations springing up to tackle the challenges of providing tests, tracking patients and setting standards for resuming social and economic life.
It also raised the possibility of a nation split into discrete regions, with their own standards and timelines for easing stay-at-home orders. That could hamper the larger fight against a virus that has already killed more than 25,000 Americans, as experts warn that lifting restrictions too soon would risk another surge of infections.
Newsom, who has allied with the Democratic governors of Oregon and Washington, avoided setting a timetable for easing restrictions that have crippled the economy. But he warned that when stay-home orders are relaxed, life will look quite different. Restaurants may reopen, he said, but the waiters may be wearing masks and gloves, and staff may check diners’ temperatures before allowing them inside. Schools may have to stagger start times to keep students from crowding classrooms. Mass gatherings, such as concerts or sporting events, are simply “not in the cards,” he said.
“Normal it will not be, at least until we have herd immunity and we have a vaccine,” Newsom said in a press conference streamed online.
Before orders are relaxed, Newsom said he would want to see coronavirus hospitalizations and intensive-care cases decline for several weeks. The state also needs to greatly ramp up its ability to test for the virus and assemble a network of thousands of people who can track new cases and trace the movements of infected people -- a protection against further outbreaks.
“Let’s not make the mistake of pulling the plug too early, as much as we all want to,” he said.
Newsom said other Western state governors were also likely to join in the regional protocol. Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Colorado’s Jared Polis, told Bloomberg News the Democrat “would welcome a regional or coordinated national approach and has been in touch with several governors throughout the crisis.”
Sparring With Washington
Newsom, Cuomo and other governors appear determined to chart their own paths out of the lockdown, largely proceeding without coordinating with the White House.
Trump has said his administration will issue guidance within days for governors who want to relax social-distancing practices, and they shouldn’t challenge his plans. On Monday, he declared that “when somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total.”
That provoked a pointed debate with Cuomo on Tuesday -- waged via Twitter and televised appearances -- over the basic American idea of federalism. The president’s assertion of primacy is simply wrong on constitutional grounds, said Cuomo, a view that most scholars echo.
“This was the first battle: Do we want a king or do we want a president?” Cuomo said in a news conference. But the governor also said he didn’t plan to waste time debating the matter.
“The president will have no fight with me,” he said. “I will not engage in it.”
Cuomo’s consortium also includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware, all run by Democrats, and Massachusetts, whose governor is a Republican. A panel of officials from the states will begin meeting soon to examine how to reopen portions of the economy.
“States are taking the lead as we fight to slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives,” said Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island. “It’s clear we need a strong, coordinated regional approach to avoid a second wave of this disease.”
Decisions should be made in coordination, the governors say, so that steps taken by one state don’t unintentionally affect its neighbors. “It doesn’t do me any good to have a bar closed in Greenwich, Connecticut, and it’s open right across the border,” said Gov. Ned Lamont.
In the Midwest, governors are discussing ways to coordinate the reopening of the regional economy, and Iowa hopes to open at least some businesses in May, said Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Reynolds, a Republican, said she has discussed what a Midwestern regional reopening could look like with counterparts in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Missouri and Illinois.
“While we’ll look at it from a regional perspective and we’ll talk about collectively the metrics we’re using, each individual governor is going to look at their own state’s metrics,” she said.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the sole Democrat in the group, said Tuesday that he began conversations in the last few days with Midwestern states. “Speaking with a common voice may be a good move,” he said.
Republican governors must balance the best way of fighting the disease and the political risk of enraging a president for whom fealty is crucial.
Gov. Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio, said he talks frequently with nearby governors to compare notes, but he said he doesn’t know whether there’ll be a formal collaboration.
“That consultation, sharing of ideas, is going to continue and is very important,” DeWine said on a live-streamed interview Monday with The Washington Post.
DeWine was among the earliest and most aggressive chief executives, canceling events and putting in place stay-home orders even as the president downplayed the pandemic. But he has dismissed any tension between the Trump administration and the states.
“This is not a confrontational issue between us and the White House,” DeWine told reporters Monday. “Just as we’ve worked together, we will continue to work together. Every state is different, and we’re going to have to lay out a plan, and I’m confident that the Ohio plan we lay out the White House will think it’s fine.”
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