Different strokes for different states

As I discussed here, Washington state is seeing a slowing in the rate of new cases and deaths from the Wuhan coronavirus. However, many states are seeing increases in these rates, some dramatic.

In Italy, there are marked differences between the north and south when it comes to data for the pandemic there. In a nation the size of the U.S., one would expect to see significant variation from area to area. There is.

I can think of at least four categories of states/regions. Washington falls into the category of states where the outbreak seems to be leveling off. It may be the only such state right now, but there will be more.

The New York City area is in the category of states/regions where the virus is known to spreading rapidly and where resources are severely stretched. Louisiana also seems to be in that category thanks, perhaps, to Mardi Gras celebrations.

A third category consists of states where there are few known cases of the virus. Among these states are South Dakota (46 reported cases), Alaska (69), Nebraska (73), West Virginia (75), and New Mexico (136).

A fourth category consists of states and/or areas that fall somewhere between New York/ Louisiana and Alaska/Nebraska, but have good reason to worry they might soon move into the former category. The Washington, D.C. area may fit this description.

One would imagine that different approaches to dealing with the virus might be needed for states/areas falling into different categories. It’s a virtue of our system of federalism that different states can adopt different approaches.

I hesitate to opine on what approaches should be used where. However, it may be possible for states with small numbers of known cases to deal with the virus as I understand South Korea did — through tracking and testing. This means identifying the people with whom infected individuals had close contact, and testing them.

Everyone identified as infected would, of course, be isolated. Individuals in high risk categories would be expected to stay home. The rest of the population would be able to go out and about. They would fight the virus through good hygiene.

This assumes that the jurisdictions in question have the capacity to perform both the testing and the tracking. That may not be the case for some, or maybe even all, such jurisdictions.

A state like Washington, where the virus seems to be leveling off, might also be able to use the same tracking and testing approach once it’s confident that the number of new cases is small and has been for a reasonable period of time.

States and areas that are overwhelmed with new cases can’t use a tracking and testing approach, and it’s doubtful that states that aren’t yet overwhelmed but that may soon be can either. A higher level of restriction on public activity is warranted in these areas. They need to focus on assembling the resources — hospitals, beds, ventilators, etc. — needed to cope with the onslaught of serious cases.

But before long, even these states will need to be thinking about some degree of “opening up.” Lockdowns that last for month after month are likely to produce economic disaster and may not be sustainable in any event.

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