The United States’s COVID response, prior to around March 10, had been anemic at best. As cases continued to explode worldwide, America’s testing capacity was severely limited. A sense of “business as usual” was clear around most of the country a mere week ago. However, the American response has dramatically shifted – and two governors, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Andrew Cuomo of New York, have spearheaded an effort by the states to make up for the federal government’s shortcomings.
In Ohio, Mike DeWine suspended schools for three weeks on March 12 – a critical act to minimize density and ensure that spread of COVID-19 does not occur in schools. While this was a necessary step to curtail COVID-19, it also brought a major problem to light – millions of kids rely on school for food, a problem seen every summer. DeWine ensured that schools continued to provide “grab and go” meals – ensuring that no student goes hungry. Additionally, DeWine’s daily press conferences – which often go on for upwards of an hour – are honest, factual, and easily understandable by the general public. When pressed on medical questions, DeWine defers to Amy Acton, the director of the Ohio Department of Health, and a former professor of Public Health. DeWine has explained all of his measures – for instance, on the March 13 briefing, DeWine cited the examples of Philadelphia and St. Louis in the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic to make the case for social distancing. DeWine’s leadership – a cool, calm leadership style, that defers to experts whenever possible – has put Ohioans at ease, and will help to keep Ohioans safe as the COVID-19 outbreak continues. DeWine himself has been a model for other governors to follow – what DeWine does, other states follow. For example, Ohio was the first state to cancel schools – as of this writing, 38 states have now closed their schools. Mike DeWine has been involved in politics since 1983 – but this has been his finest hour.
New York’s Andrew Cuomo is a markedly different personality than Mike DeWine. An effective and savvy politician, and the son of the former governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, Cuomo is a powerful governor. New York politics are defined by the power balance between the mayor of New York City and the state government – and in this regard, Cuomo often dominates the New York City Mayor, Bill DeBlasio. Cuomo’s response to the COVID outbreak in New York has leveraged the power he has acquired after nine years in office. Despite having completely different political leanings from president, Cuomo and Trump have been coordinating their responses – and Trump recently agreed to send a 1,000 bed hospital ship to New York City. Cuomo also coordinated with the governors of Connecticut and Pennsylvania to impose a shutdown of bars and restaurants in the tri-state area, as part of his efforts to minimize the density of people in New York, and therefore contain the spread. Cuomo has also shut down schools – and, to ensure that nurses and doctors would not be stuck at home and away from the virus fight, Cuomo announced a plan to create daycare facilities at hospitals. New York is also beginning to mandate work from home measures – minimizing social contact and reducing opportunities for the virus to spread.
Governors DeWine and Cuomo deserve praise for their efforts during this pandemic. But their efforts will be rendered meaningless if other governors, as well as the federal government, do not respond to this pandemic as aggressively as they have. States alone cannot combat this – the full power of the federal government must be deployed to boost testing capacity and increase the number of available beds and ventilators at hospitals.