As most countries in the world band together to #StayHome and stop the spread of covid-19, political divisions in the U.S. prevent it from participating as a unified front.
Where the majority of Americans want to follow social-distancing mandates for the greater good, a vocal minority believes lockdown measures impede civil rights.
The Federal System: Restricted Response to the Pandemic
The U.S. has the highest number of covid-19 cases in the world, with 852,703 cases and 47,750 deaths. Though many countries such as Italy are exercising national lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus, the complex federal system in the U.S. prevents it from doing the same. Each state is responsible for its own measures against the virus (or lack thereof). For this reason, perception of the severity of the virus varies from state to state.
After President Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic to be a national emergency on March 14, the White House recommended safety guidelines for states and individuals to follow. These included avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people, and maintaining a distance of 6 feet (1.8 meters) between people from different households. Though these were government recommendations, they were not mandatory.
The majority of states’ responses to the covid-19 crisis began by declaring a “state of emergency,” allowing the state government to enforce restrictions normally out of its power. This resulted in social distancing mandates, closing schools, and in most cases, closing bars, restaurants, and other non-essential businesses. By late March, almost every state was in some form of lockdown. Still, while some states such as Washington, California, and New York were quick to call for large scale, if not state-wide, stay-at-home mandates, a few states, such as Arkansas and Nebraska, have done little more than close schools and limit the size of social gatherings.
The lockdown measures have taken a huge toll on the American economy. Since Trump declared the coronavirus a national emergency, 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment.
Circumstances are further strained by the fact that some Americans believe the lockdown measures are over-reactionary, a side effect of the media’s excessive coverage of the virus. Small but widespread conservative protest groups have been rallying against the lockdown measures, often demanding to go back to work. One protester in California held a sign reading “Your fear doesn’t remove my rights”. In Texas, another man’s sign read “ALL BUSINESS IS ESSENTIAL BUSINESS”.
Protesters’ sentiments were reinforced by President Trump on April 17, when he tweeted out his support for lockdown protestors, saying lockdown measures were “too strict.”
“Their life was taken away from them,” Trump said in a press briefing, speaking about the protesters. “These people love our country, they want to get back to work.”
Trump has seemed to stand by this belief, despite the fact that lockdown measures are generally modelled on his administration’s recommended guidelines.
Fears for the Future
The division in perception of the coronavirus is likely due to the vastness of the U.S. In concentrated cities, such as New York City and Chicago, the devastation caused by covid-19 is much more evident than in rural areas with low numbers of cases.
For those Americans who are diligently practicing social distancing and following stay-at-home mandates, the fear is that states will begin to reopen too soon and a second wave of coronavirus infections will emerge. This is not unfounded: without a vaccine in sight, Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina, are considering reopening before the end of April to salvage their economies.
As for the nation at large, while many Americans are holding out hope that life will go back to normal after a vaccine is released, others fear a second chapter: an economic recession. With the unemployment rate being compared to that of the Great Depression, it is improbable the economy will immediately bounce back to normal post-coronavirus.
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