GOP gov­er­nors share rosy virus out­look

Los Angeles Times, United States of Amer­ica, 12 Oc­to­ber 2020,­­ti­cle/2816253077­73356

COVID-19 News - - News -

Hos­pi­tal­iza­tions from COVID19 have hit their high­est points re­cently through­out the Mid­west, where the growth in new cases has been the worst in the na­tion.

But that’s not the mes­sage com­ing from a num­ber of Repub­li­can gov­er­nors in the re­gion and near it, who are claim­ing silver lin­ings in the omi­nous health data as out­breaks surge in their states.

“In South Dakota, we didn’t take a one- size- fits- all ap­proach, and the re­sults have been in­cred­i­ble,” Gov. Kristi Noem told law­mak­ers in her state, which Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity says ranks sec­ond in the coun­try for new cases per capita.

Ok­la­homa’s gover­nor has been ef­fu­sively up­beat about progress against the virus, de­spite what f ig­ures com­piled by pub­lic health ex­perts and a White House task force show.

North Dakota’s gover­nor has called his state’s test pos­i­tiv­ity rate an achieve­ment, even though its rate of new cases tops the na­tion.

The rhetoric in some cases is mir­ror­ing that of

Pres­i­dent Trump, who con­tin­ues to down­play the virus’ risk even af­ter be­ing hos­pi­tal­ized with COVID- 19. And it’s wor­ry­ing pub­lic health ex­perts con­cerned about a f lu sea­son that may ex­ac­er­bate the out­break’s ef­fects.

“Pub­lic health is built on the backs of thou­sands of in­di­vid­ual ac­tions.... In or­der for there to be be­hav­ior change, there has to be trust on the data and the guide­lines,” said Dr. Thomas Tsai, a sur­geon at Brigham and Women’s Hos­pi­tal and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Har­vard T. H. Chan School of Pub­lic Health.

Most of the Mid­west Repub­li­can gov­er­nors where the virus is wors­en­ing have ei­ther re­fused to en­act statewide mask re­stric­tions or have been rolling back re­stric­tions im­posed be­cause of the pan­demic.

Trump, who tweeted “don’t be afraid of Covid” as he was be­ing re­leased from the hos­pi­tal, cheered Noem for her speech to the Leg­is­la­ture last week, where she cham­pi­oned her re­fusal to is­sue a stay- at- home or­der or other re­stric­tions.

But South Dakota’s new cases and pos­i­tive test rates rank at or near the high­est in the coun­try. The num­ber of peo­ple hos­pi­tal­ized in the state be­cause of COVID- 19 reached a new high last week, but Noem prefers to em­pha­size that only about 10% of the state’s hos­pi­tal­iza­tions are be­cause of the virus.

Doug Bur­gum, North Dakota’s Repub­li­can gover­nor, ac­knowl­edges his state’s num­bers are mov­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion as it reached new highs for ac­tive and newly con­firmed cases, as well as hos­pi­tal­iza­tions. He’s also tout­ing the state’s test pos­i­tiv­ity stay­ing in the 7% range ( which is far lower than the rate in South Dakota, but far higher than the rate in Cal­i­for­nia and North­east­ern states).

“That’s an achieve­ment com­pared to many, many other states that have never been in the spot to have this low of a pos­i­tiv­ity rate and have their econ­omy open,” Bur­gum said. “If you’re say­ing that among the states, who’s do­ing a great job, those would have to be some of the cri­te­ria you would have to look at.”

In Iowa, which has eased most of its ear­lier coro­n­avirus re­stric­tions, COVID- 19 hos­pi­tal­iza­tions also hit a record high last week.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, how­ever, has de­fended the state’s de­ci­sion to re­open bars and send stu­dents back into class­rooms with­out masks re­quired.

“The pres­i­dent is also right. We can’t let COVID- 19 dom­i­nate our lives,” Reynolds said.

Mis­souri Gov. Mike Par­son has cited where he sees his state mak­ing progress, even as a White House task force re­cently listed it in the “red zone” for its high rate of new cases and pos­i­tive tests. The state also re­cently reached a new high for hos­pi­tal­iza­tions. Par­son and his wife were both di­ag­nosed Sept. 23, though they’ve both re­cov­ered.

“The fight is not over, but we are on the right track, and we will get through this,” Par­son said in a video posted Sept. 30.

Some gov­er­nors are even push­ing back against Trump’s own ad­vi­sors for giv­ing blunter as­sess­ments of their states’ sit­u­a­tions. Ok­la­homa Gov. Kevin Stitt, who in July be­came the first gover­nor to an­nounce he had tested pos­i­tive for the virus, lashed out at the White House Coro­n­avirus Task Force af­ter it said high com­mu­nity trans­mis­sion led to “many pre­ventable deaths” in Ok­la­homa.

The gov­er­nors putting a pos­i­tive spin on their states’ wors­en­ing sit­u­a­tions face lit­tle po­lit­i­cal fallout for do­ing so, and are even fac­ing pres­sure from the right to lift any re­main­ing re­stric­tions.

That’s the case in Arkansas, where a group of Repub­li­can law­mak­ers are su­ing to in­val­i­date a mask man­date and other di­rec­tives im­posed by GOP Gov. Asa Hutchin­son.

Hutchin­son also has been crit­i­cized by Democrats, teach­ers groups and oth­ers who say the gover­nor has sent mixed mes­sages about the se­ri­ous­ness of the state’s out­break.

“I un­der­stand the drive and need to put a pos­i­tive spin on things, but I would like to see a greater sense of ur­gency,” Demo­cratic state Sen. Greg Led­ing said.

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