WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump is resisting calls to issue a national stay-at-home order to stem the spread of the new coronavirus despite his administration’s projections that tens of thousands of Americans are likely to be killed by the disease. One by one, though, states are increasingly pushing shutdown orders of their own.
Trump said earlier this week that he and members of his administration had discussed issuing a stay-at-home order but it was â€œpretty unlikelyâ€ for now. Then on Tuesday the White House offered â€œsoberingâ€ new projections that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will likely succumb to the coronavirus even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Wednesday the nation’s federalist system leaves much of the authority on how to properly respond to catastrophes to individual state governors and local officials.
â€œWe trust the governors and the mayors to understand their people and understand whether or not they feel like they can trust the people in their states to make the right decisions,â€ Adams said on ABC’s â€œGood Morning America.â€
On Wednesday alone, three more states – Florida, Nevada, and Pennsylvania – added or expanded their stay-at-home orders.
The White House’s best-case projection for loss of life assumes statewide stay-at-home orders, according to a senior administration official familiar with Trump’s thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. Trump, the official said, is a believer in federalism and that it is up to individual governors to set restrictions for their states. The official said the White House thinking is that states are being hit by the virus with varying degrees of severity and they are best able to adapt the policies for their specific situations.
More than 272 million people live in the 38 states where governors have declared statewide shelter-in-place orders or have recommended that residents stay home. In other states – places like Iowa, Nebraska and Georgia, among others – governors have resisted state-level decisions, but some localities have declared residents should stay at home. Those types of local orders cover Atlanta, St. Louis and Oklahoma City, along with dozens of other counties and cities.
Still, Trump – who has conducted long, near-daily briefings on his administrationâ€™s response to the virus outbreak over the last three weeks – has been reluctant so far to use his bully pulpit to urge governors to issue orders that would help effectively create a national quarantine.
The deference has come even as his administration has issued guidelines that have urged Americans to work from home if possible, cancel on-site instruction at schools, and avoid large gatherings. The resistance to a more robust response comes even as Vice President Mike Pence said White House models for the coronavirus toll show the country on a trajectory akin to hard-hit Italy.
Speaking to CNN, Pence said, â€œWe think Italy may be the most comparable area to the United States at this point.” Italy, which has already recorded more than 13,000 deaths, has issued a nationwide quarantine, shutting down almost all industrial production and offices and largely prohibiting residents from leaving their homes.
There are signs that Trump administration officials are pushing behind the scenes for holdout governors to issue statewide quarantines.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had resisted issuing a statewide order but reversed course and issued one Wednesday as federal and local pressure mounted for him to abandon the county-by-county approach he had implemented.
DeSantis, a Republican, told reporters that he decided to issue the order after consulting with Trump and White House advisers.
Rep. Donna Shalala, a Florida Democrat, said earlier Wednesday that Trump should be pressing governors for a unified approach to help stem the spread of the disease, calling his response so far â€œfragmented, weak and uneven.â€
â€œHe hasnâ€™t made a national plea to say weâ€™re all in this together, and he hasnâ€™t even talked to the governors about all doing the same thing,â€ Shalala, who was secretary of health and human services under President Bill Clinton, said in an interview.
Authority to order quarantines inside states rests almost entirely with states under provisions in the U.S. Constitution ceding power not explicitly delegated to the federal government to states, courts have ruled consistently for years. While the federal government itself canâ€™t order nationwide quarantines or impose quarantines on states, courts have said it has clear power under constitutional clauses regulating commerce to quarantine international travelers or those traveling state to state who might be carriers of deadly diseases.
A few legal scholars have argued that the Constitutionâ€™s Commerce Clause may vest Trump with powers to impose a multiple state or national lockdown with or without states’ approval, though any such move under that minority interpretation would almost certainly be challenged immediately as unconstitutional.
Pence told CNN that leaders and residents of states that haven’t been hard hit are already taking action to slow the virus’ spread.
In Nebraska, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has said heâ€™s basing his decisions on the advice he gets from public health experts at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which has dealt extensively with outbreaks and served as a quarantine space for Ebola patients. In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has resisted a mandatory shelter-in- place order, saying the data she looks at doesnâ€™t yet justify it in her state.
Ricketts, a vocal Trump supporter, has repeatedly said he wonâ€™t impose a stay-at-home order in Nebraska but has ordered restaurants either to close their dining areas or allow no more than 10 people inside at once, depending on their location in the state.
In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered schools to stay closed through at least May and imposed restrictions that doctors and even his critics say are tantamount to a stay-at-home order for the state. Still, Abbott refused to call it that.
â€œThis is not a stay-at-home strategy. A stay-at-home strategy would mean that you have to stay home,” Abbott said. â€œThis is a standard based upon essential services and essential activities.”
Madhani reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Meghan Hoyer, Colleen Long and Dino Hazell in Washington, Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Nebraska, Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida, and David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed reporting.