While most states in the US have ordered their citizens to stay home as they deal with the coronavirus outbreak, some are stubbornly defying expert advice – even as cases continue to rise.
The urgent need for action was made clear on Thursday, when Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, issued a plea for states to force people not to leave their homes.
“I don’t understand why it’s not happening,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“We really should be.”
Here are five states who have taken the least action:
The deep south state of Alabama has resisted implementing a statewide stay-at-home order, despite it having, as of Friday, 1,270 confirmed coronavirus cases. The lack of action is particularly troubling as Alabama’s population is especially vulnerable to infectious disease. The state had the third-most deaths from flu in 2018.
As one of the poorest states in the US, Alabama would be ill-placed to deal with prolonged economic hardship due to the virus. The state’s governor, Kay Ivey, has been evasive when asked about a stay-at-home order. “Each state has to weigh their own set of factors,” she responded during a Q&A on Thursday.
Ivey has defied Alabama’s US senator, Doug Jones, who has urged officials to act.
Arkansas is another southern state yet to order residents to stay at home, despite parts of the state experiencing soaring rates of infection – Cleburne county has 253.7 cases per 100,000 people, among the highest in the nation. Yet while many businesses including gyms and casinos have been ordered to close, some clothing stores remain open, US News reported. Asa Hutchinson, the governor, cited clothing stores on Thursday when he said people could lose their jobs if a wider order was put in place.
Mississippi, another deep south state, has chronically low income, and a poverty rate of 19.5%. Of the southern states, Mississippi has the second-highest rate of coronaviruses cases per capita, yet the state’s governor, Tate Reeves, has been sluggish with his response.
Reeves finally implemented a stay-at-home order on Wednesday 1 April, after weeks of confusion where the governor overruled cities and towns which had attempted their own orders, then defended his inaction by stating: “Mississippi’s never going to be North Korea”. The order came into effect on Friday.
A Wallethub survey which considered each states’ prevention and containment measures to gauge the aggressiveness of their response, ranked Mississippi dead last.
Oklahoma has added more than 100 new cases of coronavirus on each of the past four days, but is yet to implement a stay-at-home order. Governor Kevin Stitt has instead ordered a “Safer-At-Home” measure, which asks Oklahomans over 65 or those with a compromised immune system to only leave their homes for essential needs, like food shopping or collecting prescriptions.
Epidemiologists have said extending social distancing orders to only the vulnerable, and not the wider population, is not effective. “In my opinion, I cannot shut things down and bunker in place,” Stitt said.
Missouri saw a 600% rise in coronavirus cases over seven days at the end of March – the largest increase in the country, according to Johns Hopkins University. Despite that, Governor Mike Parson has said he will not introduce a stay-at-home order: “It’s very difficult sometimes to just put a blanket order in place,” Parson said on Thursday.
Parson did not order schools to close as the seriousness of the coronavirus became apparent, instead leaving it to school districts to decide whether to close. All 555 did so.
Some cities in Missouri, including St Louis and Kansas City, have issued their own stay-at-home orders, but leaders there have pleaded with Parson to introduce a statewide measure to prevent spread from rural communities. On Thursday, a column in the Kansas City Star summed up the governor’s lackadaisical response. It was headlined: “Missouri’s Mike Parson in contention for governor who’s done the least to contain Covid-19.”