Five Republican governors proudly declared victory over the coronavirus this week and offered up their response as a model for other states to follow. States can have it all, their message seemed to be: both a healthy populace and a thriving economy.
Yet of these five states—Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wyoming—at least four are seeing an increase in positive test results or contain hot spots for new cases. “It’s way too early to do a victory lap,” Ross Brownson, an epidemiology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told me. “There’s no measure that any public-health expert would come up with that would say this is a success.” The governors’ decision to stay “open for business” in recent weeks—as they phrased it in a Washington Post op-ed—as well as their choice to begin loosening the mostly limited restrictions they had in place, will almost certainly result in an increase in coronavirus cases, public-health experts told me.
Most of the states limited only select parts of their economy, and all of them began lifting local restrictions during the first week of May. Theirs is an understandable urge: Small businesses are going under, and people are struggling to pay their mortgage and afford groceries. Many are feeling the economic devastation of the virus, without actually seeing its public-health impact. But experts worry that they’re reopening their economies much too fast, and without the necessary precautions. “It would feel really good to go back to our normal lives,” Lynn Goldman, an epidemiologist and the dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, told me. “Unfortunately, though, these efforts to go back to normal prematurely are going to result in second waves of the epidemic.”