The current wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is the worst the U.S. has seen this year, but until recently, state and local governments were loath to consider tightening restrictions, let alone another round of lockdowns the likes of which we saw in March and April. That’s changing, and fast.
More than 163,000 new cases of coronavirus and nearly 1,200 deaths were reported on Thursday, bringing the U.S. total up to more than 10.6 million, according to the New York Times. The two-week average of new cases has increased 72 percent, according to the paper.
This week, cities and states including New York, Illinois, and Washington have either already released new rounds of restrictions, or strongly indicated that new restrictions would come ahead of the holidays.
Chicago issued a stay-at-home advisory on Thursday, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot advising residents to cancel “traditional” Thanksgiving gatherings.
“If changes are not made by Chicago residents, businesses, and visitors to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the city is on track to lose 1,000 more Chicagoans by the end of the year or even more,” Lightfoot said in a statement.
On Friday, Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon announced that the state would be put on a short-term partial lockdown starting next week, limiting social gatherings to six people, and closing certain businesses, the New York Times reported.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the same day in an interview with radio station WNYC that public schools could shut down again as early as Monday, but did not give any firm details. De Blasio stressed that any school closure would be temporary. For his part, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo limited gatherings at private homes to 10 people as cases in the state rise again.
And this week, the governors of Illinois, Washington, and Maryland all indicated that another round of lockdowns aren’t off the table, according to the Washington Post.
“Might we have to take more restrictive actions over the coming weeks and months?” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said Thursday. “Absolutely we might.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was more explicit.
"If things don't take a turn in the coming days, we will quickly reach the point where some form of a mandatory stay-at-home order will be all that is left," Pritzker said during a Thursday press conference. "With every fiber of my being, I do not want us to get there, but right now that seems like where we are headed."
Governors of some of the hardest-hit states with the highest infection and death rates, however, continue to reject the idea of more restrictions.
In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem has refused a statewide mask mandate and openly encouraged mass gatherings with no social distancing, including a Fourth of July event at Mount Rushmore featuring President Donald Trump, and the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally which attracted nearly 366,000 people this year, according to the Rapid City Journal. The latter event may have helped fuel the virus’s spread across the Upper Midwest in recent months, according to the Washington Post. South Dakota currently has more than 18,000 active cases and two-thirds of its hospital and ICU beds are occupied, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. The state admitted earlier this week to including NICU beds designed for infants in that count.
North Dakota hospitals are at capacity, Gov. Doug Burgum said earlier this week, but so far Burgum has declined to implement a mask mandate. He has, however, said that nurses who have tested positive but are asymptomatic can continue working.
On Wednesday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, criticized his counterpart in South Dakota for not taking the virus seriously.
“This one’s a little bit personal because the governor of South Dakota has taken to traveling to other states and criticizing others — now at a time when that state’s hospital capacity is overwhelmed,” Walz said.
Earlier this week, Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Minnesota and an advisor on President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force, said that a national lockdown would help get the virus under control, so long as another financial stimulus package was passed covering lost wages.
Responding to Osterholm, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday that his state would refuse to comply with a national lockdown order, calling it “totally and completely beyond reasonableness.”
Osterholm told the Washington Post that he knew the idea of a national lockdown was not politically feasible, but that it’s the only way to get the virus under control.
“I’m smart enough to know when something is not going to happen,” he said. “All I can do is hold it out there. It is going to be, mark my words, the only thing that will stop this runaway train.”