New Research Shows States With Republican Governors Were Slower to Adopt Social Distancing Policies

Those delays “are likely to produce significant ongoing harm to public health.”

Mike Ehrmann/Getty

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In the middle of March, as millions of people across the country started to practice social distancing measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Florida’s Spring Breakers did the opposite. Thousands of people, seemingly unfazed by the pandemic, took to the state’s coastline after the Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, decided not to order the beaches closed.

DeSantis still hasn’t enacted statewide stay-at-home orders, garnering plenty of criticism from local leaders and public health officials. The governor’s resistance probably isn’t just about the number of cases of the virus in his state. A new white paper shows that states with Republican governors, along with states with higher number of supporters of President Donald Trump, were slower to adopt social distancing policies—and those delays “are likely to produce significant ongoing harm to public health.”

The biggest influence in how states acted was not the number of confirmed cases, but rather politics, according to new research by a group of professors at the University of Washington. They focused on five measures taken directly from state government websites: restrictions on gatherings, school closures, restaurant restrictions, non-essential business closures, and stay-at-home orders. Trump initially downplayed the threat of the virus, and “numerous surveys have found significant partisan divides in public opinion about the severity of the coronavirus threat,” the researchers point out.

Their research showed that states with Republican governors and more Trump voters introduced social distancing policies 2.7 days later than more liberal states. “Does a 2.7 day delay matter?” the researchers write, concluding: “Given the quick doubling time of COVID-19, these delays have the potential to cause a dramatic increase in the peak volume of cases.”

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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