Various members of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force have lamented the fact that some states have yet to issue stay-at-home orders. The media especially has been applying pressure against the hold outs, publishing a whole series of frantic articles shaming the governors of these states for failing to get with the program.
An NBC reporter recently tweeted a list of the eight (now seven, with South Carolina jumping on the quarantine bandwagon early this week) states that have not yet gone into a full lock down. Those states are: Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. We are meant to wag our fingers at these naughty states that would dare to, as a recent USA Today headline put it, “celebrate freedom as the death toll climbs.” Indeed, the media would prefer much more than finger wagging. Based on the questions they ask Trump and his advisers, it’s clear that they would like to see the president issue a national stay-at-home order, overriding the small minority of governors who have chosen to deal with the problem in other ways.
There are a number of good reasons for Trump to refrain from making such an order. The first and best reason is that he has absolutely no authority to do so. A national stay-at-home order would mean that the President of the United States is effectively placing 330 million Americans on house arrest all at once, which would be, of course, wildly unconstitutional.
But even on a practical level, it would make no sense. The media and certain bureaucrats want the epidemic to be handled the same way everywhere in the country, ignoring the rather obvious fact that different parts of the country are, well, different. Reporters at CNN and the New York Times may be shocked to discover that not everywhere in the country looks or functions like New York City or Washington, DC. Most places don’t, in fact.
Let’s focus in on three of the hold out states that the media insists must go into lockdown or else cataclysmic results will follow. South Dakota, as of Monday, has 288 coronavirus cases and 4 deaths. It has a population of 882,000 spread out over 77,000 square miles. North Dakota has 225 cases and 3 deaths. Its population is 760,000, residing across its 70,000 square miles. Wyoming has a little over 200 cases and zero deaths. About 577,000 people live on its nearly 100,000 square miles of surface area. If you’re doing the math at home, between the three states that’s a grand total of 7 deaths among an overall population of 2.2 million, living over 244,000 square miles. To put it simply, there are not very many cases, hardly any deaths, and the chance of a sudden explosion of cases seems mitigated by the extremely low population density. In fact, these are three of the 5 least densely populated states in the union.
Compare this to New York City, where 3,000 people have died of the virus. New York has 8 million people packed into just 300 square miles. Its population density of 27,000 people per square mile (Wyoming has 6 per square mile, by the way) means that more people live in 3 square miles of New York than live in North Dakota’s state capital, Bismarck. It is not hard to see how a virus like COVID-19 would manage to run roughshod over a city where an entire NBA arena’s worth of human beings are squeezed into every square mile. It is, on the other hand, very hard to see how it could do the same in Wyoming, where you’re more likely to drive into an elk than a traffic jam.
Why should Wyoming pretend that it’s New York City for the purposes of fighting the coronavirus? And if it did go into a full lockdown because of a disease that’s infected a few hundred people and killed nobody, how exactly could they justify not locking down for all of the various contagions that actually do kill people in their state? I know we’re forbidden from making these sorts of comparisons, but I feel compelled to mention that 27 people died from the flu in Wyoming last year. If they didn’t lockdown for that, why insist that they lockdown for this?
It’s a matter of plain common sense that states all across our socially and geographically diverse country should tackle this problem in a manner that makes sense for their specific situation. One-size-fits-all solutions are rarely effective. And that’s especially the case here.