Federalism and Fighting Coronavirus

Historians in the News
tags: public health, pandemic, Federalism

Many governors have been exemplary: Democrats from Rhode Island to Washington state and Republicans from Maryland and Massachusetts to Ohio.

John Barry's epic book “The Great Influenza,” chronicling the pandemic of 1918, the closest parallel to today, depicts the crucial role of federalism. The Woodrow Wilson administration's national response was pathetic on a pandemic that took 675,000 American lives. On the local level, the telling contrast was between Philadelphia, which ignored the threat (even staging a parade after the break out), and St.Louis, which closed schools, church and synagogues, staggered work shifts and required social distancing.

The death rate per capita in St.Louis was less than half that in Philadelphia.

A contemporary illustration is comparing the experiences of California and Florida, two of the three largest states with diverse populations, tourist destinations with not dissimilar climates. California Gov. Gavin Newsom moved aggressively in mid-March closing schools and mandating stay at home and other measures. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was skeptical of tough mitigation moves until two weeks later and now may foolishly be opening up too quickly.

COVID-19 infection rates are 19 percent less in California than Florida.

The troubling challenge in the next three to six months is confronting the continuing health crisis and opening an economy facing depression-level depths, threatening social disorder. This needs to be done cautiously and selectively, driven by data not dates, policy not politics.

Read entire article at The Hill

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